Plummer, William Swan [1826-1880]

Filed under “They just don’t write ’em like that any more.” — Just came across the 1881 resolution by the 1881 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, US, on page 363 of their Minutes. Rev. William Swan Plumer, 1802-1880:

The Committee recommend the adoption of the following Minute:

Whereas, it pleased the Great Head of the Church to remove, in October 1880, from the scene of his earthly labors, that he might be with Him where He is, and behold His glory, Rev. W. S. Plumer, D.D., LL.D., Professor of Pastoral and Casuistic Theology in Columbia Seminary, by appointment of this body:

Resolved, That this Assembly does now record its testimony to the personal worth, eminent piety, unremitting industry and zeal, and official fidelity of this distinguished servant of Christ. Our deceased brother was a rare gift of the ascended Redeemer to his militant Church, and we render to Him thanks for that grace which qualified our brother for his varied and abundant labors—for his long and useful life, and for the testimony of his lips, life and death to the truth, preciousness and power of that gospel which was his comfort, joy and trust, living and dying.

Our Primary Author, now retired!, & on his Birthday, No Less!


Eighty years ago, on this day, October 7, 1940, out on the wind-swept plains of Lemmon, South Dakota, David T. Myers was born—the fourth and youngest child of Rev. David K. Myers and his wife Anne.  Rev. Myers was riding the rural preaching circuit at the time, preaching to and pastoring as many as fifteen small prairie churches in the newly formed Bible Presbyterian Church.  There is little recorded of the Myers’ family life of this time, other than one story that the Myers children were known to say, especially during blizzard season, “Now, let us pray for Daddy if he be stuck!”  Certainly this was a product of the faithfulness of young David’s mother, Anne, whose “determination, steadfast support, and unfailing labors in the church and home with her prayers,” recalled Rev. Myers years later, allowed him to “go far in ‘them thar’ hills for the gold of precious souls who turned to Christ by evangelistic means to receive the Gospel.”

[Note: David’s father, the Rev. David K. Myers, wrote an autobiography titled Preaching on the Plains. For information on how to order a copy of this most interesting autobiography, click here. The table of contents, and later, several sample chapters, were posted here.]

Without a doubt, David Myers’ early life was cocooned in the message and work of the Gospel.  He must have breathed it in, along with the crisp northern wind, and been animated by its strength and power in the time before even his first memory.  When David was a boy of three, Rev. Myers took on a new calling as a chaplain in the U.S. Army.  There followed numerous different postings, including a most memorable three years at the Army chaplaincy in post-World War II Germany, at the infamous Nazi concentration camp—Dachau.

It was in Dachau that mankind’s depravity and desperate need for a Savior was seared onto David’s consciousness.  At the impressionable age of eight to ten years old, David would wander the camp of horror in those first years of the American occupation, even before the full extent of the Holocaust was known to the world.  He saw bones in the dirt, human ashes in the ovens, and a gruesome hanging tree, ropes still swinging.  David later wrote of the “breathtaking cruelty” that was apparent throughout Dachau.  He would recall one instance “walking through a shower room with bars of soap, sprinkler heads, drains in the floor, except everything was wooden, including the bars of soap. This was a gas chamber, and I can remember hurrying out of there when one of my older friends with me then mentioned it as that.”  All of this impressed upon the boy with indelible force the inescapable “sinful depravity of man” and his need for the Gospel.

It was to that Gospel calling that David would turn as he returned to America and entered his formative years of study, eventually completing his masters of divinity degree at Faith Seminary in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, where his father had taken up a professorship (later, David would add a doctoral degree from Covenant Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri).  Then, in 1966, he and his new bride, Carolyn, began what would stretch to nearly fifty years of faithful and continuous Gospel ministry—pastoring five different Presbyterian churches, serving as an “honorary chaplain” at the U.S. Army War College, and engaging in numerous scholarly work, popular writing, and public engagement ministries.

After a short stint in Alberta, Canada, David and Carolyn moved to Lincoln, Nebraska to plant a new church work in the Bible Presbyterian denomination.  God blessed their efforts and as that church grew, David’s ministry expanded in the community.  In 1974, it was reported by the local press that David had begun, and was serving as President, the Nebraska Association for Christian Action.  “It is the aim of this organization to bring to bear the Word of God on vital social and political issues, and to engage in Christian witness and action in public affairs,” David said at the time.  The organization fulfilled its mission during those years as it testified regularly before the state legislature and advocated on many issues of public concern.


With the birth of a new, reformed Presbyterian denomination in America, the PCA, David transitioned his ministry into a new denominational home.  Both the work he began in Lincoln, and the subsequent work begun in Omaha, remain faithful congregations—with fruitful church offspring of their own—in the PCA.  During this time, David and Carolyn welcomed into their lives and ministry their only child, daughter Ann Margaret.


In 1986, having seeded the cornfields of Nebraska with a flourishing reformed Presbyterianism, David accepted a call east and left his beloved Nebraska Cornhuskers for the hills of Pennsylvania.  There, for the next twenty years, he would pastor two PCA congregations, one in Pittsburgh and one in Carlisle.  While in Pennsylvania, David’s fascination with American history, and particularly the period of the Civil War, reached new heights.  He began a ministry of research and writing connecting the deep Christian spirituality of that era to the on-the-ground living history of battlefields and memorials across the Pennsylvania countryside.  His personal tours through the Gettysburg National Park became renown among Christian tourists seeking to learn the specific Christian stories of the war.  As always, David never took off his pastoral cap, using history to illuminate again, the power of the Gospel of Christ.  His books [Stonewall Jackson: The Spiritual Side and The Boy Major of the Confederacy] on the era do the same.

In 2004, David retired from his period of formal ministry in the PCA, but he has never retired from the ministry of the Gospel.  David soon took up a key post as an “honorary chaplain” at the U.S. Army Chapel at the Carlisle Barracks, a part of the Army War College.   In this way, David brought his ministry full circle from those early years as an “Army brat” witnessing the horrible depravity of man while his father ministered in the chaplaincy in Dachau.  David served as a faithful teacher and occasional pastor at the Chapel, ministering to some of the U.S. Army’s top brass as they moved through postings at the War College.

David’s characteristic wry humor found one of its keenest expressions during his time at the Chapel.  He is known to remark: “It is the most perfect church I have known.  If you don’t like the congregation, they leave every year, and if you don’t like the chaplain, he leaves every other year!”  But beyond humor, David has continued his life’s work, bringing the light of the Gospel to everyone around him.  For example, in 2012, Col. Randall Cheeseborough, the chairman of the War College’s department of academic affairs, told one publication that he and his wife kept returning again and again to hear David’s teaching: “It was so Scripture based, it was a wonderful experience.  It’s good for me to see an older man’s faithfulness and dedication.  He’s just a wonderful role model.”  Another member of the brass, Col. Bill Barko told the same publication: “More than about any single person, David has been a huge spiritual influence on our community.”

Readers of this blog certainly have known and experienced these same truths.  In 2010, David floated to the PCA Historical Center the idea of a daily devotion tied to events in Presbyterian history.  Others, including director Wayne Sparkman, thought it was a fine idea, but were concerned about content production.  Thus, David’s project was given the green light, but on one condition: that he write an entire year’s worth of daily devotionals before the project would launch.  David eagerly accepted the challenge and for the next two years, wrote what would become the first 365 of this project’s devotionals.  To date, This Day in Presbyterian History has produced over 1,300 daily devotionals from Presbyterian history, is read by thousands around the globe, and has been cited by many other publications both scholarly and popular.

And so, on his 80th birthday, we are honored to wish our founder a hearty “Happy Birthday!” with his own, well deserved chapter in this collection recounting God’s abounding grace and saving mercies as they have been deposited in one branch of his Church.  David’s faithful life and work have, without a doubt, testified to the truth that there is a Savior, and that he is Jesus Christ, our Lord.  David and Carolyn continue to live in the hills of Pennsylvania, in the village of Boiling Springs, and he can still be seen, from time to time, leading fellow Christians and history buffs around the Gettysburg battlefield, recounting stories of faith in the most trying of times.  His daughter Ann lives in Kansas with her husband Caleb, and David’s five grandsons.

Our post today comes by way of family members grateful for his legacy of faith.

“We cannot afford to be wiser than our Lord in this matter. If any one could have pled that his spiritual experience was so lofty that it did not require public worship, if any one might have felt that the consecration and communion of his personal life exempted him from what ordinary mortals needed, it was Jesus. But He made no such plea. Sabbath by Sabbath even He was found in the place of worship, side by side with God’s people, not for the mere sake of setting a good example, but for deeper reasons. Is it reasonable, then, that any of us should think we can safely afford to dispense with the pious custom of regular participation with the common worship of our locality?”

Under the Church’s current struggles, this conclusion to Dr. Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield’s address, The Religious Life of Theological Students, remains quite pertinent.

I am not counseling you, you will observe, to make your theological studies your sole religious exercises. They are religious exercises of the most rewarding kind; and your religious life will very much depend upon your treating them as such. But there are other religious exercises demanding your punctual attention which cannot be neglected without the gravest damage to your religious life. I refer particularly now to the stated formal religious meetings of the Seminary. I wish to be perfectly explicit here, and very emphatic. No man can withdraw himself from the stated religious services of the community of which he is a member, without serious injury to his personal religious life. It is not without significance that the apostolic writer couples together the exhortations, “to hold fast the confession of our hope, that it waver not,” and “to forsake not the assembling of ourselves together.” When he commands us not to forsake “the assembling of ourselves together,” he has in mind, as the term he employs shows, the stated, formal assemblages of the community, and means to lay upon the hearts and consciences of his readers their duty to the church of which they are the supports, as well as their duty to themselves. And when he adds, “As the custom of some is,” he means to put a lash into his command. We can see his lip curl as he says it. Who are these people, who are so vastly strong, so supremely holy, that they do not need the assistance of the common worship for themselves; and who, being so strong and holy, will not give their assistance to the common worship?

Needful as common worship is, however, for men at large, the need of it for men at large is as nothing compared with its needfulness for a body of young men situated as you are. You are gathered together here for a religious purpose, in preparation for the highest religious service which can be performed by men—the guidance of others in the religious life; and shall you have everything else in common except worship? You are gathered together here, separated from your homes and all that home means; from the churches in which you have been brought up, and all that church fellowship means; from all the powerful natural influences of social religion—and shall you not yourselves form a religious community, with its own organic religious life and religious expression? I say it deliberately, that a body of young men, living apart in a community-life, as you are and must be living, cannot maintain a healthy, full, rich religious life individually, unless they are giving organic expression to their religious life as a community in frequent stated diets of common worship. Nothing can take the place of this common organic worship of the community as a community, at its stated seasons, and as a regular function of the corporate life of the community. Without it you cease to be a religious community and lack that support and stay, that incitement and spur, that comes to the individual from the organic life of the community of which he forms a part.

In my own mind, I am quite clear that in an institution like this the whole body of students should come together, both morning and evening, every day, for common prayer; and should join twice on every Sabbath in formal worship. Without at least this much common worship I do not think the institution can preserve its character as a distinctively religious institution—an institution whose institutional life is primarily a religious one. And I do not think that the individual students gathered here can, with less full expression of the organic religious life of the institution, preserve the high level of religious life on which, as students of theology they ought to live. You will observe that I am not merely exhorting you “to go to church.” “Going to church” is in any case good. But what I am exhorting you to do is go to your own church—to give your presence and active religious participation to every stated meeting for worship of the institution as an institution. Thus you will do your part to give to the institution an organic religious life, and you will draw out from the organic religious life of the institution a support and inspiration for your own personal religious life which you can get nowhere else, and which you can cannot afford to miss—if, that is, you have a care to your religious quickening and growth. To be an active member of a living religious body is the condition of healthy religious functioning.

I trust you will not tell me that the stated religious exercises of the Seminary are too numerous, or are wearying. That would only be to betray the low ebb of your own religious vitality. The feet of him whose heart is warm with religious feeling turn of themselves to the sanctuary, and carry him with joyful steps to the house of prayer. I am told that there are some students who do not find themselves in a prayerful mood in the early hours of a winter morning; and are much too tired at the close of a hard day’s work to pray, and therefore do not find it profitable to attend prayers in the late afternoon: who think the preaching at the regular service on Sabbath morning dull and uninteresting, and who do not find Christ at the Sabbath afternoon conference. Such things I seem to have heard before; and yours will be an exceptional pastorate, if you do not hear something very like them, before you have been in a pastorate six months. Such things meet you every day on the street; they are the ordinary expression of the heart which is dulled or is dulling to the religious appeal. They are not hopeful symptoms among those whose life should be lived on the religious heights. No doubt, those who minister to you in spiritual things should take them to heart. And you who are ministered to must take them to heart, too. And let me tell you straight out that the preaching you find dull will no more seem dull to you if you faithfully obey the Master’s precept: “Take heed how ye hear”; that if you do not find Christ in the conference room it is because you do not take him there with you; that, if after an ordinary day’s work you are too weary to unite with your fellows in closing the day with common prayer, it is because the impulse to prayer is weak in your heart. If there is no fire in the pulpit it falls to you to kindle it in the pews. No man can fail to meet with God in the sanctuary if he takes God there with him.

How easy it is to roll the blame of our cold hearts over upon the shoulders of our religious leaders! It is refreshing to observe how Luther, with his breezy good sense, dealt with complaints of lack of attractiveness in his evangelical preachers. He had not sent them out to please people, he said, and their function was not to interest or to entertain; their function was to teach the saving truth of God, and, if they did that, it was frivolous for people in danger of perishing for want of the truth to object to the vessel in which it was offered to them. When the people of Torgau, for instance, wished to dismiss their pastors, because, they said, their voices were too weak to fill the churches, Luther simply responded, “That’s an old song: better have some difficulty in hearing the gospel than no difficulty at all in hearing what is very far from the gospel.” “People cannot have their ministers exactly as they wish,” he declares again, “they should thank God for the pure word,” and not demand St. Augustines and St. Ambroses to preach it to them. If a pastor pleases the Lord Jesus and is faithful to him,—there is none so great and mighty but he ought to be pleased with him, too. The point, you see, is that men who are hungry for the truth and get it ought not to be exigent as to the platter in which it is served to them. And they will not be.

But why should we appeal to Luther? Have we not the example of our Lord Jesus Christ? Are we better than He? Surely, if ever there was one who might justly plead that the common worship of the community had nothing to offer him it was the Lord Jesus Christ. But every Sabbath found Him seated in His place among the worshiping people, and there was no act of stated worship which He felt Himself entitled to discard. Even in His most exalted moods, and after His most elevating experiences, He quietly took His place with the rest of God’s people, sharing with them in the common worship of the community. Returning from that great baptismal scene, when the heavens themselves were rent to bear Him witness that He was well pleasing to God; from the searching trials of the wilderness, and from that first great tour in Galilee, prosecuted, as we are expressly told, “in the power of the Spirit”; He came back, as the record tells, “to Nazareth, where He had been brought up, and”—so proceeds the amazing narrative—”He entered, as His custom was, into the synagogue, on the Sabbath day.” “As His custom was!” Jesus Christ made it His habitual practice to be found in His place on the Sabbath day at the stated place of worship to which He belonged. “It is a reminder,” as Sir William Robertson Nicoll well insists, “of the truth which, in our fancied spirituality, we are apt to forget—that the holiest personal life can scarcely afford to dispense with stated forms of devotion, and that the regular public worship of the church, for all its local imperfections and dullness, is a divine provision for sustaining the individual soul.” “We cannot afford to be wiser than our Lord in this matter. If any one could have pled that his spiritual experience was so lofty that it did not require public worship, if any one might have felt that the consecration and communion of his personal life exempted him from what ordinary mortals needed, it was Jesus. But He made no such plea. Sabbath by Sabbath even He was found in the place of worship, side by side with God’s people, not for the mere sake of setting a good example, but for deeper reasons. Is it reasonable, then, that any of us should think we can safely afford to dispense with the pious custom of regular participation with the common worship of our locality?” Is it necessary for me to exhort those who would fain be like Christ, to see to it that they are imitators of Him in this?

Words to Live By:
Your brothers and sisters in Christ hope to see you gather together with them to worship our risen Lord and Savior. See you in Church this Sunday!
Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.—
Hebrews 10:25.

A few thoughts on the value of the Westminster Shorter Catechism,excerpted from THE CHARLESTON OBSERVER15 October 1836, p. 166, columns 2-3:—
[At the moment, we’re short of events for the 5th of this month.]


Ought the Assembly’s Shorter Catechism to be used in Sabbath Schools; and if so, to what extent?

We have seldom heard a more eloquent eulogium on the Catechism, than was elicited in the discussion. All seemed ready and anxious to speak in its praise. We can give only a few disconnected sentences from our notes.

What is the Catechism? An epitome of all the great truths and distinguishing doctrines of the Gospel. He who learns that, has the substance of the Old and New Testaments. No book, except the Bible, is so near perfection. Those who have done most to bless the world, have loved the doctrines just as they are taught in the Catechism. The Puritans came to these shores to cherish these doctrines. “But,” says one, “it is no use to teach children what they cannot understand.” All past experience shows that tis is not true. They must be tuaght things which they cannot understand. I owe more, said the speaker, to my knowledge of these doctrines, as tuaght in that manual, than to my three years’ study in the Theological Seminary. There is a great deal of thought in the Catechism; more than in some of our libraries.

I was once, said another speaker, taught the Catechism, and I never think of these truths without the tenderest recollection of my parents, now in heaven.

I have reason to bless the God of heaven, (said the moderator, probably the oldest Minister present) that I was taught that sytstem of doctrine while I was almost in the arms of my mother. When I grew up so as to compare it with the Bible, I found there was a unison. My old Minister used to teach it at the close of the common school. Then we were called orthodox. That man is now sleeping with his fathers. A new set of Ministers have arisen, who have discarded the Catechism, and now but few can be found in that place, who hold the doctrines as there taught.

Words to Live By:
Perhaps you’ve been so blessed as to have memorized the Shorter Catechism when a child, or perhaps even in later years. If that hasn’t been your experience, may I urge you to at the very least take up the practice of reading it on Sunday afternoons? Or you might read through it day by day, one question & answer at a time. Think of the Catechism as a succinct summary of what the Bible teaches. It’s a wonderful help, readily available, and so each to use.

The following is part of a sermon preached by Dr. Franklin Pierce Ramsay on June 13, 1926, in his son’s pulpit at Calvary Presbyterian Church of Staten Island, New York, some three months before his lamented death on September 30, 1926. Dr. Ramsay was himself a member of the Southern Presbyterian Church [properly the Presbyterian Church, U.S. or PCUS, by its initials], and author of an esteemed commentary on the PCUS Book of Church Order. He was born on March 30, 1856 and educated at Davidson College, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Chicago (Ph.D.) and Columbia Theological Seminary. In his forty-five year career, he served as pastor of at least six Presbyterian congregations and also as president of several colleges, including King College, Bristol, Tennessee. In retirement, he resided with his son on Staten Island, and as we shall see, took the opportunity to attend the General Assembly of what was often called the Northern Presbyterian Church. So moved by what he observed there, he secured permission to bring a sermon before the congregation pastored by his son.

In his sermon, after mentioning some of the outstanding features of the 1926 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., Dr. Ramsay stated that he would confine himself for the most part, to thoughts suggested in connection with the Report of the Special Commission of Fifteen [space does not permit an explanation of that Commission or its Report]. And so after a careful analysis of the report, he concludes with these words:]

The General Assembly of 1926: A Warning
by the Late Rev. Franklin P. Ramsay, Ph.D.

The report was adopted almost unanimously. I was present. The report made a profound impression, and gave general satisfaction. Nevertheless, I fear that the church is headed toward a most dangerous conclusion. The conviction did not come to me while I was under the spell of the report, but since I have come to reflect upon it. There are three evils in the church to-day, against which I lift a voice of warning.

First. I warn against the suppression of discussion.

There is a general impatience with controversy. It pervades the atmosphere of the general public. And there is especially the strongest prejudice against “heresy-hunting.”  This feeling has broken down discipline in the church generally. Even when it comes to licensing and ordaining ministers, there is a restless impatience with those who seek to guard against admitting unfit men into office. When there is so widespread and powerful a prejudice against discussion and against the prosecution of heresy, the cry for peace rises loud above every other cry. In words, this commission was to aim at “the purity, peace, unity, and progress of the church”; but it is commonly spoken of as the Peace Commission, and never as the Purity Commission. And by peace is too often meant the doing away with discussion, debate, controversy.  And now that the party opposed to discussion has control of the machinery of publicity, we see how those who would protest are silenced. This sermon, for instance, could not hope to get itself published in two of the three church weeklies; the man who is preaching it could not hope to get a half hour to present to his presbytery his reasons for fear of danger to the church. It would have been impossible at the General Assembly to adequately discuss this report.  Agitation is under taboo. And men in high positions in the church are well aware that for them to take an active part in controversy would endanger their positions; and prudence pleads powerfully for silence.

But is controversy is suppressed, the truth is suppressed. Discussion, full and open discussion, is the way to truth. It is true in science; behold the controversies in every department of scientific inquiry. It is true in politics. Our own political institutions originated and were shaped in prolonged debate, and are based upon the principle that political wisdom emerges only from the contributions of many minds to the discussion of the questions involved. And in religion, the dead Church of England protested the agitation of the Wesleys; but it was that agitation that saved England from the dry rot of a formal piety. The Church of Rome sought to suppress the Reformers; but the Protestant Reformation burned to flame and light in debate. Luther was temperamentally unfit to conduct such a discussion; and Calvin was harsh and merciles to opponents, so much so that, if one like them should arise in the Presbyterian Church to-day, he could not get appoints as a secretary of one of our Boards or confirmed as a professor to one of our seminaries. What would become of Paul who was uncompromising in his controversies with the advocates of another gospel? And our Lord himself, who spent his ministry largely in combatting the heresies of his day, and was sent to crucifixion by enraged ecclesiastics for disturbing the peace with his fierce denunciation of error, would he to-day be dumb and sweet when the greatest intellectual battle that Christianity has ever known is on? It is a pity that men must fight this battle out to a finish, imperfect men, with imperfect tempers, and making many mistakes; but so it must be. So let it be. The truth must not be betrayed by a conspiracy of silence. Let every man speak who is not afraid; and let the timid get courage from the Christ that was crucified.

Do not misunderstand me. I believe most heartily with the Assembly that all controversy within the church should be conducted in humility, in a most earnest effort to understand, in a horror of misrepresentation, and with a desire to promote the truth in peace. Let all mis-statement and all ill-feeling be put away. But let us discuss among ourselves as brethren the questions at issue, endeavoring to reach agreement by reaching the truth; and if we must disagree, to disagree in love. First purity, and then peace.

Second. I warn against the abolition of the Constitution by construction and non-use.

What I mean is this: “Changes in the meaning and use of language and diverse understanding and interpretations of the same words have led to much confusion and uncertainty. Some are disturbed because they believe that others are departing from the faith while making use of its forms of speech, and some are disturbed because they believe that they are accused of such departure, though they declare that in their own consciences they are confident of full loyalty to all essential truth.” So says the report, and says truly. The same words may be used by two men in very different senses. And so a united church may go on saying the same words, but using the words in quite different senses.

But that is not all. Men can use words without intending thereby to express any definite meaning. How easy it is to recite the Lord’s Prayer in concert; but how little do we really understand and mean what we say? So the creed formulated in our Constitution may become a form of words, accepted as a form of words, but not expressing present and living beliefs.

Still worse is the intentional use of words without intending the meaning which they properly signify. Thus people and ministers recite the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in the resurrection of the body,” when they do not believe in the resurrection of the body, but only in a sort of spiritual continuance of life, and intend to say one thing when they mean another. This is called accommodation of language for the sake of venerable association by some; by others it is called lying for convenience.

Now the danger that threatens the Presbyterian Church is that it will keep its creed unchanged in form while ceasing to believe it. Some will believe it, some will say it without definitely believing anything, and some will intentionally say what they do not believe for the sake of continuing in the church. This species of immoral deception, largely self-deception and to some extent intentional falsehood, is the peril that lies before us. When discussion is suppressed, this disease can grow, till the moral honesty of the church is eaten through.

There are influences that are making for this result. One is the effort to prevent debate, and to put all controversy under taboo. Another is the demand for unity. Ours is the largest Presbyterian Church in the country or in the world; and we are impatient to grow larger still. There is a demand for a more inclusive church, for the breaking down of denominational barriers, for uniting separated denominations into one denomination. We are told all Presbyterians ought to be one. The passion for unison persuades itself that it is the Christ-like thing and is always speaking of the good that will come when unification is accomplished. This devotion to unification is horrified at the thought of division, and will endeavor to keep our great church together.

In such an atmosphere, when it is impossible to persuade the church to make a change in its Constitution consciously and formally, it is possible to really change the Constitution in its spirit without changing it in words, and silently to bring about a departure from what has been believed, to some new doctrines, until unawares the church shall have ceased to be distinctly Calvinistic, militantly Protestant, or consciously evangelical, shall have ceased to be Trinitarian and loyal to the Scriptures, and shall have become really Unitarian.

And Third. I warn against the church’s forsaking its proper function of preaching and teaching the gospel of salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ and becoming simply a humanitarian society of co-operation for social reform.

Take this last Assembly. The one thing which stirred the greatest enthusiasm, and brought the thousand commissioners to their feet cheering, was the declaration of the moderator that he stood uncompromisingly for the Eighteenth Amendment. Now this is a political expedient for a social reform, an expedient that has never before been tried and is therefore a political experiment; and personally I myself believe in carrying the experiment through to ultimate success by thorough enforcement; yet I see clearly that it is a political experiment for a social reform, and it is not the business of the church as such to favor it.  Yet the Assembly was hot for this political good.

And I attended a dinner given by leading Presbyterians in one of our cities to outgoing missionaries. With the exception of one speech and faint notes in one or two others, I heard nothing of the passion for souls that must forever be the great motive of missionaries of the cross of Christ. The dominant thought was uplift of backward peoples by giving them the elements in which our civilization may be superior to theirs, a sort of Near East Relief. But the burning zeal to herald a crucified and risen Christ to men dead in their sins did not speak out.


I am raising my feeble voice with little hope of turning the tide. The controversies of the past have resulted one by one, in lowering the standard of orthodoxy and liberalizing the Presbyterian Church, and that with little formal change in its Constitution. It has gradually and insensibly moved in the direction that I have pointed out, toward looseness of creed, toward a lessening vitality in its distinctive work of witnessing for Christ, and toward a broader interest in causes that lie outside of its proper work. And this is not true of the Presbyterian Church alone. It is true of the Methodist Church, which has done so much by its zeal for Scriptural holiness to bring the millions to a personal acceptance of Jesus Christ; for it will be generally conceded that the great, the rich, and the cultural Methodist Church of to-day is inferior in spiritual life and evangelical zeal to the Methodist Church of a century ago.  So of the Congregational Church. Behold, how its Harvard has gradually passed from being the nursery of orthodoxy to being the garden of Unitarian laxity! The trend of the times is toward laxity of dogma and comprehensiveness of activities. Creeds are left dead on the field of history, though not always buried; and controversy about doctrine is ruled a thing of the crude ages that have gone by. To this stage the Presbyterian Church is moving, and at this stage it will arrive, unless it can be awakened before it has been put to sleep on the grave of its glorious past, its past when its elaborate creed was its treasure, and its zeal for gospel truth was its pearl of price.

I am well aware that my voice will not carry far. But it is my mission to cry the warning, whether it shall be heeded or not. It may be that some abler man will come to the kingdom in this critical day, some younger man O Luther, come, and rouse the church with your zealous witness and your lashing tongue! O Calvin, come with your relentless logic, and save the day when the battle is turned toward the gate! It is a day of crises; God raise up a man of war!

Peace? Who is crying Peace, peace, when there is no peace? Brethren, there is such a thing as righteous zeal for truth, for soundness in the faith, for right dogma; and woe be to that church which for the sake of an illusive peace silences honest testimony, and dopes itself with sentimental devotion to union. The price of sound doctrine is eternal vigilance, and the ceaseless ringing of the alarm bells in the night.

And victory will yet come. The people of God may be enslaved in Egypt, may be corrupted in Palestine, may be rent asunder from about their temple of glory, may be carried into captivity, and may be given over to lifeless formalism. They may come to have so little of real truth that they shall be so blind as not to know the Christ when he comes.  But there is the True Witness, and there is the resurrection from the dead. I shall not live to see the decadence of the church which I fear, much less the revival of dogmatic truth afterwards. But the revival will come. For Jesus Christ is on the throne, and sheds forth His Spirit of light and truth. His gospel will live. The battle may be long, and the weary hours may move and the splendor of truth will shine forth. If we cannot speak in the high places of influence for the truth, we can live it; if we cannot lead, we can follow; and if we cannot wield the sword for truth, we can pray for the battle thundering afar.

[excerpted from The Presbyterian, 19 May 1927, pages 6-7.]

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