September 2012

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

Near to the Heart of God

What a remarkable gift Cleland Boyd McAfee had as a pastor.  Every quarter when the people of God in the congregation in Chicago, Illinois celebrated the Lord’s Supper, Pastor McAffee would write a new hymn.  First, he would teach it to the church choir.  Then they and the congregation would sing it to the glory of God.

Cleland McAfee was born September 25, 1866 in Ashley, Missouri.  After seminary, he held pastorates in two Presbyterian churches in  Chicago, Illinois and Brooklyn, New York.  Along the way, he was the pastor at and choir director at Park College, in Parkville,  Missouri.

The tragedy struck at the turn of the new century in 1903.  Two daughters of his brother, Harold, were sickened with diphtheria and died.  The whole church and even the entire town grieved the loss of both of these precious children.

Cleland McAfee sat alone and wondered how he could minister to his own brother’s family, to say nothing of the people in the Presbyterian church in Chicago, and for that matter in the city of Chicago.  Thinking of James 4:8, which says, “Draw near to God, and he will draw night to you.” (KJV), Pastor McAfee put together the words and stanzas of the hymn, “Near to the Heart of God.”

With your knowledge of this tragedy then, listen to the familiar words:

“There is a place of quiet rest, Near to the heart of God, A place where sin cannot molest, Near to the heart of God.

“There is a place of comfort sweet, Near to the heart of God, A place where we our Savior meet.  Near to the heart of God.

“There is a place of full release, Near to the heart of God, A place where all is joy and peace, Near to the heart of God.”

Then the refrain, “O Jesus, blest Redeemer, Sent from the heart of God, Hold us, who wait before Thee, Near to the heart of God.”

God’s heart is a place of quiet rest, a place where sin cannot molest, a place of sweet comfort, a place to meet our Savior, a place of full release, and a place where all is joy and peace.  The line “near to the heart of God” is repeated seven times in the hymn.  It is a hymn of comfort for all of God’s people when “hard providences” are their lot.

Words to live by: Dear reader, you may not be suffering hard times on this day, or you may in the midst of difficult days and hours.  Or you may know of some other saint who is under the weather in difficult days.  This hymn can be the comfort which you need or they need.  Sing it softly.  Meditate upon its words.  Take comfort from it.  Reflect on James 4:8. Let the heart of God be your solace this day, and always.

Through the Scriptures:  Ezekiel 46 – 48

Through the Standards:  Limitations of Oaths

WCF 22:3 
“Whosoever takes an oath ought duly to consider the weightiness of so solemn an act, and therein to avouch nothing but what he is fully persuades is the truth: neither may any man bind himself by oath to any things but what is good and just, and what he believes so to be, and what he is able and resolved to perform.”

This Day in Presbyterian History:

A New Scientific Procedure Takes a Spiritual Giant Away

Our focus is not on a Presbyterian per se, but rather a theological giant who accepted an invitation to become the third president of the College of New Jersey, later Princeton University, which was a Presbyterian institution.

His name was Jonathan Edwards.  And at this time, this Congregational minister was easily the greatest Biblical theolgian and philosopher which the American colonies had produced.

He had been a pastor.  He had experienced the challenge of missionary work among the native Indian tribes.  He had an exemplary family life, from which would come,such following generations, many  great men of God who served in both church and state.  His theological works were famous even then. But best of all, he was the chief architect of the First Great Awakening in the American colonies.   In short, there was nothing to dislike in Jonathan Edwards, and everything to rejoice in with this choice by the College trustees.

Now the College of New Jersey had  its share of presidents and professors.  Jonathan Dickinson and Aaron Burr, Sr., both Presbyterian pastors in colonial America, had taken on the extra burden of being educators of the  handful of students who enrolled at the College of New Jersey.  Rev. Dickinson lasted all of four plus months in that dual role.  And Rev. Burr lasted longer but not more than four years in teaching the small student body.  He was the one used of the Lord to make the strategic move to Princeton, New Jersey.  Now the invitation went out to Jonathan Edwards, in the fall of 1757, just five days after the death of the school’s second president, Aaron Burr, Sr.

John Brainerd, the brother of missionary David Brainerd, was one of two commissioners who was appointed to press the invitation to Edwards.  The latter was most reluctant to receive it.  Edwards felt that the book which needed to be written next by his pen was that of one on Arminianism.  So it took several days of approaching Edwards until finally, the New England minister, upon consultation with valued friends, replied in the affirmative on September 24, 1757.

He would take several months to prepare himself for the new ministry, so it wasn’t  until February 16, 1758 that he was installed as President of the College of New Jersey.  He began to speak in chapel and meet with the student body, to the delight of those privileged to sit at his feet.

With small pox prevalent in the area, it was decided to follow a new scientific method and inoculate President Edwards with a small portion of small pox, with the idea that he could then fight off the advances of the disease.  However a fever came upon him, and after serving just thirty-four days, Jonathan Edwards died from small pox on March 22, 1758.  It was a loss to the College, a loss to the American colonies, and a loss to the kingdom of Christ on earth.

Words to live by: With a firm dependence on God’s sovereignty, one might be tempted to affirm that God had made a mistake in providence.  But there are no mistakes with the holy and wise God.  There is only the will of God, exercised sometimes in permissive providence before His people.  And this was certainly one example of it.  We may not know the reason why our God acts this or that way.   But we know the God of the past, present, and future, and so can say, “Thy will be done.”

For further reading : There are those who contend the President Edwards was, at least in principle and heart-affection, a Presbyterian. See, for instance, the account here : President Edwards a Presbyterian.

Through the Scriptures: Ezekiel 43 – 45

Through the Standards: Propriety and duty of oath-taking

WCF 22:2
“The name of God only is that by which men ought to swear, and therein it is to be used with all holy fear and reverence.  Therefore, to swear vainly, or rashly, by that glorious and dreadful Name; or, to swear at all by any other thing, is sinful, and to be abhorred.  Yet, as in matters of weight and moment, an oath is warranted by the Word of God, under the new testament as well as under the old; so a lawful oath, being imposed by lawful authority, in  such matters, ought to be taken.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

Home School Education in the Nineteenth Century

They are still being used today!  McGuffey Readers, that is.  But what an important force they have had from the early days of our land up to the present.  In a day when modern textbooks are known to tear down what is right about America and Christian values, the McGuffey Readers would instead reflect the values of hard work, industry, honesty, loyalty, Sabbatarianism, and temperance, or in other words, exactly what is needed today in our modern society.

Their name comes from William Holmes McGuffey, who was born on September 23, 1800.  From an early age, he demonstrated a prodigious command of both languages and literature.  Educated by his mother in their home and schooled in Latin, as was the practice then, by a Presbyterian minister, William committed large passages of the Bible to memory.  Eventually he studied at Washington College in Lexington, Virginia (now Washington and Lee University) which was an early Presbyterian college.  He graduated with honors from the college in 1826.

William McGuffey was licensed to preach by the Presbyterian Church, and although we cannot find his name associated with any local church, he preached regularly, delivering some 3000 messages by his own account.  His ministry was in education, serving as president and professor at five different colleges and universities.

He would be remembered primarily for his Eclectic Readers, though afterwards those readers were more commonly called by his name, and they had a profound influence on American public education for over two centuries.  He died in 1873, but like the prophets of old, being dead, he yet speaks through these remarkable readers for young ages.

Words to live by:  The proverbs of old told us to “train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (KJV – Proverbs 22:6)   That is as true today as it was when it was first written down in holy Scripture.  The Hebrew word for “train up” speaks of “across the roof of.”  It referred to the practice of birthing when the midwife would spread the olive juice across the roof of the mouth of the just born infant, teaching that infant how to draw milk from the mother’s breast.  It therefore came to mean
“create a desire for.”  Christian dads and moms, you are to be the instrument of the Holy Spirit to create a desire for spiritual things in the hearts and minds of your children.  By being faithful to do this, you can then claim the general promise of this favorite text.

Through the Scriptures:  Ezekiel 40 – 42

Through the Standards:  Various kinds of oaths

WCF 22:1
“A lawful oath is part of religious worship, wherein, upon just occasion, the person swearing solemnly calls to God to witness what he asserts, or promises, and to judge him according to the truth of falsehood of what he swears.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

The Last of An Amazing Family

Has there every been an equal to one family name serving the same educational institution in the history of American Christianity?  We would be hard pressed to find a similar example to the Hodge family at Princeton Theological Seminary.

First, there was Charles Hodge, serving the Lord as a professor from 1820–1878.  There is fifty-eight years of continuous service, preparing ministers for the gospel ministry.  His “Systematic Theology” has stood the test of time as being the greatest exposition of Reformed theology in America.

Charles Hodge had eight children, including two sons who also taught at Princeton Seminary. Caspar Wistar Hodge taught from 1860 to 1891, while Archibald Alexander Hodge taught from 1877–1886.  Both carried on the line of the family name, but more importantly, carried on the same committed to the infallible Word of God as summarized up in the Westminster Standards.

The grandson of Charles Hodge, and son of Caspar Wistar Hodge, was Caspar Wistar Hodge, Jr.  He was born this day, September 22, 1870, in Princeton, New Jersey.  Studies at Princeton College, the Seminary, and oversees school at the Universities of Heidelberg and Berlin, this grandson of Charles Hodge taught on the collegiate level at Princeton and Lafayette.  It was noted that he had a deep Christian spirit and a breadth of learning and scholarship in those assignments.

It was no wonder that he was asked then by the Board of Directors to take over the Chair of Systematic Theology to which his immediate family had made so much a blessing to students down the ages.  His inauguration to that post took place on October 11, 1921.  It seemed fitting that the grandson of Archibald Alexander, Maitland Alexander, who was the president of the Board of Directors of Princeton, be the one who gave the charge.

This second decade of the twentieth century was a challenging one, in that, at the end of the decade, Princeton Seminary would suffer the loss of both J. Gresham Machen and Robert Dick Wilson.  The former would grieve over the fact that Caspar Hodge would stay on at the faculty of Princeton, after the board was reorganized to allow two signers of the infamous Auburn Affirmation to sit on it. Yet, while Caspar Hodge did stay on, his heart was at Westminster Seminary, in that time and time again, he would send financial contributions to the new seminary. Further, he spoke of the fact that he would openly defend the name of Dr. Machen in conversations, sometimes with heated exchanges.  He would go to be the Lord in 1937, having spend thirty-six years at Princeton Seminary, and the last of the famous Hodge family to be associated with this school.

Words to live by: Doctrinally, this last of the Hodge line at Princeton Seminary was in complete agreement with every other Hodge family of professors, that is, adherence to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as well as adopting the Reformed faith of the Westminster Standards.  It is to be both a prayer request as well as a praise item that the message of the gospel goes on through generations.  Let us commit ourselves to the family and its spiritual growth in the things of the Lord.

Through the Scriptures: Ezekiel 37 – 39

Through the Standards: Proof texts of the pattern of prayer

Matthew 6:9 – 13  “Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed by thy name.  Thy kingdom come.  Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread.  And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.”

This Day in Presbyterian History: 

A New Help for Conservative Presbyterian Chaplains in our Armed Forces

Being a military chaplain in any of our Armed Forces was always viewed with favor by this contributor.  That was probably because my father served his God and country as an Army chaplain from World War Two through the Korean Conflict. There were divine appointments in the context of a military which are not found in any civilian context.  And when the chaplain is a Bible-believing, Gospel-preaching minister to men and women in the military, there is an extraordinary opportunity to see God’s kingdom and church grow in the faith and knowledge of the Triune God.

Prior to 1976, the National Association of Evangelicals were endorsing chaplains on behalf of young Presbyterian Church in America.  As good as that was, there was a conviction on the part of some, which was communicated by the Pacific Presbytery of the P.C.A., to request a study to consider whether sister Presbyterian churches could join together to endorse their own chaplains to the Chief of Chaplains. Committees were formed in the respective Presbyterian churches, such as the Presbyterian Church in America, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod.  Ministers in all three churches who had been or were then military chaplains formed these committees.  A working group was organized and a name was suggested, which was, “Presbyterian and Reformed Joint Commission on Chaplains and Military Personnel.”

On September 21, 1978, the initial meeting was held at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis to form such a commission.  The combined churches had over 100,000 members and could therefore endorse chaplains on its own.  Some of the added benefits of having our own endorsing agency included the ability to hold our own spiritual retreats, an increased awareness of our chaplains and their ministries at national denominational meetings, better representation before the Chief of Chaplains in Washington, D.C., and a national newspaper, called the Guardian.

Other Presbyterian and Reformed bodies joined in the commission, such as the Korean American Presbyterian Church, Korean Presbyterian Church in America, Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, and the United Reformed Churches in North America.  Col. (ret.) David Peterson, after a thirty year career in the United States Army as a chaplain, became the Executive Director in 1995.  He served until just recently when Brig. General (ret.) Douglas Lee took over the helm of that position.

Chaplain David Peterson

Words to live by: There are opportunities and challenges for our military chaplains which pastors in their civilian churches do not have normally.  Young men and women in uniform are facing war tours away from families.  How great is it to have a Bible-believing chaplain to be there with the Word of God to meet them in public and private.  Temptations are always present in a military situation.  How good is it to have a gospel-preaching chaplain present who can provide an escape from that temptation with other Christian soldiers for a Bible-study, or meaningful worship time.  Family life without a father or a mother, a husband or a wife, is stressful.  A Reformed chaplain can be there to counsel in difficult times.  Pray for our military chaplains.  Write them letters or emails of encouragement.  Provide them and their soldiers with care boxes from home.  Support them in their important callings.

For further reading : “The Presbyterian and Reformed Joint Commission on Chaplains and Military Personnel,” by Robert B. Needham — Chapter 24 in Confident of Better Things, edited by John Muether and Danny Olinger (pp. 471–484). Needham provides a succinct history of the PRJCMP, undergirding that history with a very useful Scriptural defense of military chaplaincy.

Through the Scriptures:  Ezekiel 34 – 36

Through the Standards: The postlude of the Lord’s Prayer, according to the Shorter Catechism

WSC Q. 107 – “What does the conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer teach us?
A.  The conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer, (which is, For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.) teaches us, to take our encouragement in prayer from God only, and in our prayers to praise him, ascribing kingdom, power, and glory to him.  And, in testimony of our desire, and assurance to be heard, we say, Amen.”

The Presbyterian and Reformed Joint Commission is the endorsing agency for chaplains from the following NAPARC denominations:

The Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARPC)
The Korean American Presbyterian Church (KAPC)|
The Korean Presbyterian Church in America – Koshin (KPCA)
The Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC)
The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)
The Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA)
United Reformed Churches in North America

For more specific information on chaplaincy in the following denominations, see the links provided:
PCA Information on Chaplaincy
OPC Information on Chaplaincy


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