September 2012

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

This Day in Presbyterian History:

There is None to Replace Him

It was so thought by John Wesley, co-founder of  Methodism.  The person Wesley referred to in the quotation of our title was George Whitefield.  And it was strange that John Wesley thought this, considering that he as an Arminian Methodist differed greatly from George Whitefield, who was a Calvinist Methodist.  The occasion of the above quote was the death of George Whitefield on September 30, 1770 in Newburyport, Massachusetts.

You say, wait a moment, isn’t this devotional website given over to Presbyterian persons, places, and things?  Yes it is, and George Whitefield was an Anglican, not a Presbyterian.  But he died at the parsonage of a Presbyterian minister by the name of Jonathan Parsons, who was the pastor of Old South Presbyterian Church, which church had been founded by George Whitefield after one of his revivals.  Confused?  Don’t be!  Whitefield worked with all the denominations in the American Colonies, especially with those who were involved in the First Great Awakening.  And the Rev. George Parsons was a Presbyterian evangelist in that Great Awakening which shook the colonies in the 1740’s.

George Whitfield was “The Apostle of the British Empire.”  He made for the gospel sake some 13 Atlantic Ocean crossings to many of the countries of the empire, including seven trips to the American colonies.  It is estimated that he preached some 18,000 sermons, or 500 per year, which translated out to ten per week.  The crowds at these meetings could top thirty thousand, all of which could hear the preacher.

On his way to Massachusetts in 1770, preaching as he traveled, George Whitefield on the day before he died, prayed a prayer which said, “Lord Jesus, I am weary in Thy work, but not of Thy work.  If I have not yet finished my course, let me go and speak for Thee once more in the fields, seal Thy truth, and come home and die.”  That last sermon was on the steps of George Parson’s home, to thousands who clamored for him to preach the Word to them the evening before he died. He did so for two hours until the candle burned down in its socket to nothing, and he stopped.  The next morning at 6:00 a.m., he went to be with his Savior.

On October 2nd, Anglican George Whitefield was buried in the crypt beneath the pulpit in the Old South Presbyterian Church, in Newburyport, Massachusetts, where it can be seen today.  There is a steady stream of visitors to the memorial site two centuries later.

Words to live by:  Being weary in the work, but not being weary of the work of Christ’s church.  That is the testimony of every faithful minister of the gospel in our evangelical and Reformed churches.  So, church member, you must be mindful that your pastor has a day off each week, a four-week vacation away from the ministry  (and no calling up at his vacation cabin to ask him where the communion cups are found, which happened to this retired pastor once!), and a Sabbatical every number of years for a longer time of rest and relaxation.  We who have been called for the sacred task of ministry will never weary of the work, but will frequently be weary in the work.

Through the Scriptures:  Esther 1 – 3

Through the Standards: Proof Texts of Lawful Oaths and Vows

Deuteronomy 6:13  “It is the LORD your God you shall fear.  Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear.” (ESV)

Matthew 5:34 – 37 “But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.  And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.  Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” (ESV)

James 5:12 “But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your ‘yes’ be yes and your ‘no’ be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.” (ESV)

Tags: , , ,

This Day in Presbyterian History:

If You are Number Two, Do You Try Harder?

Samuel Miller was definitely number two among that faculty of Princeton Seminary that year of September 29, 1813.  Started only one year before, Archibald Alexander was the first professor of the Presbyterian Seminary with only a handful of students.  As another war with Britain was raging (the War of 1812), it was a trying time for a smooth start. On top of that, the students of Princeton College were anything but spiritual. College pranks had brought the college close to shutting down. Samuel Miller, fresh from a pastoral experience in a city church, would arrive on the campus and quickly became a force for spiritual good at both the seminary and the college, even in his position as Professor of Ecclesiastical History and Church Government.

Helping this whole process were a number of personal resolutions which Miller wrote down for himself, as a way of guiding his relationship with other people at both the college and the seminary. Those resolutions are too long to print here, but two of them speak to Christian people being in a supporting role, whether in the church, your called profession, or in any organization.

Number 3 reads, “I will endeavor, by the grace of God, so to conduct myself toward my colleague in the seminary, as never to give the least reasonable ground of offence.  It shall be my aim, by divine help, ever to treat him with the most scrupulous respect and delicacy, and never to wound his feelings, if I know how to avoid it.”

Number 4 reads, “. . . Resolved, therefore, that, by the grace of God, while I will carefully avoid giving offence to my college, I will, in no case, take offence at his treatment of me.  I have come hither resolving, that whatever may be the sacrifice of my personal feelings—whatever may be the consequence—I will not take offence, unless I am called upon to relinquish truth or duty.  I not only will never, the Lord helping me, indulge a jealous, envious, or suspicious temper toward him; but I will, in no case, allow myself to be wounded by any slight, or appearance of disrespect. I will give up all my own claims, rather than let the cause of Christ suffer by animosity or context.  What am I, that I should prefer my own honor or exaltation to the cause of my blessed Master.”

These were only two of the seven resolutions.  But even considering these two alone, what would be the result in our churches if both officers and members would more fully reflect in their character and conduct these two resolutions.  Truth and duty indeed were the only two exceptions to the rule.  Otherwise, the guiding principle was to always esteem others more highly than yourself.

Words to live by:  Samuel Miller wrote above, “I will give up all my own claims, rather than let the cause of Christ suffer by animosity or conflict.”  What a magnanimous spirit!  What a change this would cause in many local churches, to say nothing of our evangelical and Reformed denominations, if all the officers and members possessed Samuel Miller’s spirit.  Examine yourself, dear reader, or examine your small group, or examine your local fellowship. How do you measure up?  What can be done if you find your character and conduct lacking?  Is it not time for a revival of religion in your circles?

Through the Scriptures : Daniel 10 – 12

Through the Standards: Limitations of Vows

WCF 22:7
“No man may vow to do anything forbidden in the Word of God, or what would hinder any duty therein commanded, or which is not in his own power, and for the performance whereof he has not promise of ability from God. In which respects, popish monastical vows of perpetual single life, professed poverty, and regular obedience, are so far from being degrees of higher perfection, that they are superstitious and sinful snares, in which no Christian may entangle himself.”

This Day in Presbyterian History:

The Purpose of the Bible for Unbelievers and Believers

Finding little of significance in Presbyterian history, we return to the magnificent answers of the Shorter Catechism, and specifically No. 80.  It asks and answers, “How is the Word made effectual to salvation?  A.  The Spirit of God makes the reading, but especially the preaching, of the Word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation.”

We now arrive at the first outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption, namely and especially “the Word,” or the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.

Focus in with me  on the first five words of this answer,  “The Spirit of God makes.”   We must never limit the work of the Holy Spirit, for He is God.  Yet the means which the Triune God has appointed is the Holy Spirit working through and by the Word of God to make it effective for salvation.  Thus, it behooves us to always pray that the Holy Spirit apply the reading and preaching of the Word to ourselves and others.

Our Confessional fathers then reminds us of the two methods associated with the Bible, namely, that of reading and preaching.   Every time we read and hear the Bible, we need to ask and answer three questions, namely, what does it say, what does it mean, and what does it mean to me?.

The way of the Word being an effectual means is two-fold.  First, the Word “convinces and converts sinners.”  It convinces us that we are sinners.  It humbles our proud thoughts with respect to ourselves.  It convinces us that we cannot save ourselves.  It convinces us that Christ alone is the way, the truth, and the life. In short, it drives sinners out of themselves and draw us and others irresistibly to the Redeemer.

The Word through the Holy Spirit then converts us.  We are changed from a child of the devil to a child of God.   We go from death to life, from a hater of the holy God to a lover of God.  We have a change of mind which leads to a change of action.

What this convincing and converting should produce in us at the reading, but especially the preaching of the Word of God, is a prayer for the effectiveness of the Bible in the lives and souls of the elect.  Let us not simply sit at “zombies” in the chairs of our homes, or the pews of the church, when the Word of God is read in family devotions, or Sunday worship.  Let us constantly be in prayer when the Bible is read, that it might bring forth spiritual fruit unto salvation, and holiness of life, and preparation for service.

The Word also is an “effective means” of “building us up in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation.”  There is a construction process going on around the Word of God.  The Spirit of God is building spiritual stones in the temple of our hearts.  Holiness of God is aimed at by the reading and hearing of the Word of God.  Comfort from the troubles of life is the direction by the reading and hearing of God’s Word.  What sins are we to be putting to death? What encouragement are we to receive, not only for ourselves, but to others who need the comfort of God.

In summary, the reading and listening to God’s Word, the Bible, should never be a rote experience in our lives.  It is to be a living, changing progression in conversion and conduct.

Words to live by:  As a retired Presbyterian and Reformed  pastor, I once challenged the people of an evangelical and Reformed congregation by giving them a paper bag, so that they could smuggle their personal Bibles out of their homes on the Lord’s Day, use them in the church service, and then smuggle them back into their homes at the end of the Lord’s Day!  It was an extreme suggestion (which no one did actually), and a humorous suggestion to get them to bring their Bibles to church.  I then followed it up with a Through the Bible reading plan in a year (the one I am using in this devotional guide) to make their Bibles a constant in their hearts and lives.  It had its effect on the congregation, as some of them were saved, and others began to grow in grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus.  Keep the Word of God before God’s people, by believing and living it yourselves, and encouraging others to be much in God’s Word, the Bible.

Through the Scriptures Daniel 7 – 9

Through the Standards: Guidelines in taking vows

WCF 22:6
“It is not to be made to any creature, but to God alone: and, that if may be accepted, it is to be made voluntarily, out of faith, and conscience of duty, in way of thankfulness for mercy received, or for the obtaining of what we want, whereby we more strictly bind ourselves to necessary duties: or, to other things, so far and so long as they may fitly conduce thereunto.”

Tags: , , ,

This Day in Presbyterian History:

He was a wanted man

The Presbyterian pastor teacher was a wanted man, that is, wanted by theological seminaries to teach at their school.  Princeton Seminary wanted George T.  Purves to teach church history on their faculty.  Western Seminary wanted the scholar to teach theology.  McCormick Seminary in Chicago want the veteran pastor to teach theology on their faculty.  But the heart of this Princeton Seminary alumni was in New Testament, so when a vacancy opened up with the death of Caspar Wistar Hodge, he came to Princeton Seminary.

George Tybout Purves was born on September 27, 1852 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  His undergraduate studies were at the University of Pennsylvania, from which he graduated in 1872.  Immediately, he went to Princeton Seminary for the years of 1873 to 1877.  Becoming ordained by the Chester Presbytery, he served three Presbyterian churches in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and back in Pennsylvania at the First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh.  With pastoral experience behind him then, he went back to Princeton where for the next eight years (1892 – 1900), he taught New Testament Literature and Exegesis.

Not known for his authorship of volumes (though he wrote about twenty books), his spiritual legacy was found in the men who sat under him in classes and graduated to change the world for Christ.  That legacy continued in the pastoral field as during his teaching duties at the seminary, he also supplied the pulpit of the First Presbyterian Church of Princeton.

Leaving the seminary halls for the pulpit once again, he accepted the call to become the pastor of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City.  After serving one year, he answered his Savior’s summons and died in 1901.

Words to live by:  What spiritual gifts this man of God possessed!  When he was in the pastorate, the theological schools wanted him. When he was in the sacred halls of seminaries, the churches wanted him. The point is this! Everyone, every Christian, has been given at least one, and no doubt many more Spirit-given abilities for service, or spiritual gifts.  In one sense, it doesn’t matter where you use them.  The important thing is that you use them somewhere. Do you know what your spiritual gift is?  Ask your spouse, or a close Christian friend, or your elder, or your pastor. Then finding it, use it for God’s glory and the good of His church.

For further study : Dr. Purves’s inaugural lecture at Princeton, “St. Paul and Inspiration,” can be read on the web here.
The George Tybout Purves Manuscript Collection is preserved at the Department of Special Collections at the Princeton Theological Seminary, and described in a finding aid, here. [I note that this finding aid was written by PCA pastor Ray Cannata, back when he was a student at PTS.]

Through the Scriptures:  Daniel 4 – 6

Through the Standards: Definition of the duty of vows

WCF 22:5
“A vow is of the like nature with a promissory oath, and ought to be made with the like religious care, and to be performed with the like faithfulness.”

Image source : Frontispiece portrait from Joy in Service, from a copy preserved in the PCA Historical Center. Scan prepared by the Center’s staff. This was Dr. Purves’s final work, published posthumously by the American Tract Society (New York, 1901).

This Day in Presbyterian History:

A Soldier Remembers a Sermon

To countless secular Civil War authors, they  seem to take delight in ridiculing the spiritual side of Thomas Jonathan Jackson, better known as “Stonewall” Jackson on the battlefield.  Not knowing or caring that this Presbyterian church deacon was not a mere Christian in name only, but a genuine born-again Christian, some of these authors are embarrassed by his Christian conversation and conduct. Especially do they take delight to record the number of times in which General Jackson fell asleep in a worship service!  And while that happened, there are of course many occasions when he was not only awake, but also took notes in his heart and mind of the sermon preached on that Lord’s Day.  One such occasion was a sermon preached by the Rev. Robert L. Dabney, a Presbyterian chaplain,  on September 26, 1861.   Listen to Jackson’s words, written to his wife Anna Jackson:

“I did not have room enough in my last letter, to write as much as I desired about Dr. Dabney’s sermon yesterday.  His text was from Acts, seventh chapter, and fifty-ninth verse.  [Note: And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” — Acts 7:59, King James version; compare the ESV translation: “And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”]

He stated that the word “God” being in italics indicated that it was not in the original, and he thought it would have been better not to have been in the translation.  It would then have read, ‘calling upon and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’  He spoke of Stephen, the first martyr  under the new dispensation, and  like Abel, the first under the old, dying by the hand of violence, and then drew a graphic picture of his probably broken limbs, mangled flesh and features, conspiring to heighten his agonizing sufferings.

“But in the midst of this intense pain, God, in His infinite wisdom and mercy, permitted him to see the heavens opened, so that he might behold the glory of God, and of Jesus, of whom he was speaking, standing on the right hand of God.  Was not such a heavenly vision enough to make him forgetful of his sufferings?  He beautifully and forcibly described the death of the righteous, and as forcibly that of the wicked.”

That was on this occasion an understanding of both the sermon and the sermon’s application.  For believers who may possibly suffer the loss of their lives, or various limbs of their bodies, as Jackson did later in 1863 regarding both of these cases, that heavenly vision was sufficient to make him forget his earthly sufferings.

Further, another application was that of the blessed gospel, preaching the death of the righteous in contrast to the death of the wicked.  Civil War chaplains always included sincere invitations to believe the gospel and return in commitment to the Lord.  That is why there was such a mighty spiritual awakening of sinners and revival of believers during this years of the War Between the States.

Despite all secular commentators to the contrary, it is obvious on this occasion that we had a close listening to the preached Word with an understanding of the two-fold application of that sermon.  Divine worship was alive and well in Jackson’s heart and life.

Words to live by: It was said of our Lord Jesus, that his custom or habit was always to be found in the Jewish synagogue on the Sabbath.  And the writer to the Book of the Hebrews enjoined believers to not forsake their assembling together as some were already doing in his day and age.   We must be in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, worshiping in His house the Triune God

Through the Scriptures:  Daniel 1 – 3

Through the Standards: Interpretation and Obligation of Oaths

WCF 22:4
“An oath is to be taken in the plain and common sense of the words, without equivocation, or mental reservation.  It cannot oblige to sin; but in anything not sinful, being taken, it binds to performance, although to a man’s hurt.  Nor is it to be violated, although made to heretics, or infidels.”

Tags: , , ,

« Older entries

%d bloggers like this: