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An excerpt from a brief article by Samuel Brown Wylie, titled “Prayer, A Reasonable Duty,” as found in the March 1821 issue of The Presbyterian Magazine. Dr. Wylie was the first Reformed Presbyterian to be ordained in the United States, in 1799, by the Reformed Presbytery as it met in Ryegate, Vermont. Born on May 21, 1773, Wylie was installed as pastor of the First Reformed Presbyterian church of Philadelphia in 1803, and served there until his death on October 13, 1852. Dr. Wylie was also Professor of Ancient Languages in University of Pennsylvania, 1828-45, and Emeritus Professor, 1838-45. 


“Although God could accomplish all His purposes instantaneously by a word of power, He chooses to work by means, and has made it our duty to be diligent in their observance. We are so prone to dwell on the visible surface of the effect, that we are in danger of ascribing to the mere machinery in the hand of the Deity, that agency which ought to be referred to the efficiency of an omnipresent Spirit. While, therefore, Christianity inculcates the diligent use of the means of grace generally, and of prayer particularly, it at the same time cautions against resting in them. We must look through them and beyond them to their divine Author, who alone can render them efficacious for the purposes for which they were intended.

“There is no feature more characteristic of the Christian than a disposition to pray, and a delight  in the duty. These are an immediate result of the new birth, “Behold he prayeth.” Where this disposition does not exist, there is no evidence of spiritual life. We do not deny, that in spiritual as well as natural life, there may be temporary swoons and occasions of suspended animation : but we do aver, that a continued habitual neglect of this medium of holy intercommunion with God, is as decisive evidence of a state of spiritual death, as a continued cessation of breathing would be, of the soul’s departure from it’s clay tenement. The true Christian, therefore, will be diligent and careful in the performance of this duty. He will endeavour to be careful for nothing, but in all things, by prayer and supplication, make his requests known unto God, who will abundantly supply all his wants, according to His riches in glory  which is by Christ Jesus.”

[If you would like to see the full article transcribed in PDF format, please send an email to wsparkman {AT} pcanet /DOT/ org].

Chronological bibliography—
The Obligation of Covenants : A Discourse delivered, Monday, June 27, 1803, after the dispensation of the Lord’s Supper, The Reformed Presbyterian Congregation, Glasgow (Paisley : Printed by Stephen Young, 1816), 36 p. [Reprinted in 1804 and 1816].

The Two Sons of Oil, or, The Faithful Witness for Magistracy & Ministry upon a Scriptural Basis.Also, A Sermon on Covenanting. Being the substance of two discourses.  (Greensburg [Pa.] From the press of Snowden & M’Corkle, 803), 117 p., 1 l.  [Reprinted in 1806; 1832; 1850; 1977; and 1995].

Wylie, Samuel Brown and Alexander M’Leod, The Constitution of the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Presbyterian Church : with an address, &c. (New-York : S. Whiting & Co., 1811), 12 p.

The first Annual Address read before the Religious Historical Society : May 20th, 1817 (Philadelphia : Printed at the Office of Religious Remembrancer, by John W. Scott, 1818), 22 pp.; 23 cm.  Includes the Constitution of the Religious Historical Society of Philadelphia, pp. 17-18.  Note: Dr. Wylie’s presentation is his statement of the value of historical studies and collections, stating that absolute truth may be discovered through such studies.

“Prayer, A Reasonable Duty,” in The Presbyterian Magazine (March 1821): 97-101.

Sentiments of the Rev. Samuel B. Wylie, A.M. in 1803, respecting civil magistracy and the government of the United States : contrasted with sentiments of the Rev. Samuel B. Wylie, D.D. in 1832, on the same subjects.(Montgomery, N.Y. : Thomas & Edwards, 1832), 12 p.

An Introduction to the Knowledge of Greek Grammar (Philadelphia : J. Whetham, 1838), 149 p.

Wylie, Samuel Brown and John Niel McLeod, Memoir of Alexander McLeod (New York : C. Scribner, 1855), xv, 535 p.

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The bicentennial observation of the founding of the Fairfield Presbyterian Church, of Fairton, New Jersey, commonly known as the Old Stone Church, was observed on September 29, 1880, the church having been organized in 1680. That congregation continues on to the present day and is a member church of the Presbyterian Church in America.

osbornEthanEasily the most distinguished pastor in the history of the Old Stone Church was the Rev. Ethan Osborn.

For our Lord’s day sermon, the following is a transcript of the aged pastor’s last words to his congregation,

“the aged preacher, in all the faithfulness of his still loving heart, and under circumstances which could not fail to awaken for him the sympathy of his audience. He is now in his ninety-second year. The place where he stands was he scene of his eventful ministrations for more than half a century, and he does not expect ever to preach from that pulpit again. After referring to the ministry of his predecessor, who in 1780 preached the first sermon in the house, to his own labors there, and to those of the writer of this memorial, then the pastor of the congregation, he proceeds—”

“I may safely say that by the preaching of these three ministers, in this house, the doctrines and all things essential to duty and salvation, have been clearly explained and faithfully urged upon the people. The doctrine of human depravity has been explained and proved from Scripture and common observation. Here also the doctrine of regeneration has been repeatedly set forth, and the absolute necessity of it urged upon the people. It has been shown that we must be new created in Christ Jesus, must have the love of God ruling in our hearts, or we can never be admitted into his kingdom.

“Also the doctrines of repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, have been faithfully preached in this house, and their absolute necessity in order to obtain pardon and heavenly felicity. Likewise the duties prescribed in the gospel have been explained and insisted on. The people have been informed that supreme love to God is their indispensable duty. Here also they have been taught the duties we owe, one to another, to do good to all according to our abilities and opportunities; and to ourselves, to live sober and religious lives in the world. Here also, that the law forbids every sin, whether in action, word or heart, and pronounces a curse on every transgression of it. For ‘cursed is every one that continueth not in all the things which are written in the book of the law to do them.’ And as all have sinned, therefore no human being can be justified before God by the deeds of the law, or by meritorious obedience. The law requires perfect and perpetual obedience. But as no man has yielded such obedience, or possessed sinless perfection, therefore in vain do you now look to the law for justification.

‘Since to convince and to condemn,
Is all the law can do.’

“But, thanks to God : the gospel reveals a way of justification, how we may obtain forgiveness and the favor of God. And this blessed gospel has often been preached in this house, the gospel which offers a free pardon to every humble penitent. ‘This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.’ The blessed Saviour invites the weary and heavy laden sinner to come to him, assuring him that he will raise him up at the last day to eternal life. Such is the inviting and beneficent language of the gospel. But at the same time, both law and gospel denounce everlasting punishment on such as reject the Saviour and die impenitent.

“Now the interesting question is, How have the people improved the preaching of the law and the gospel? Most of those who lived under the ministry of my predecessor have gone to the grave. But to you who are yet living and hearing the gospel, the question is solemn and important. Have you so improved the preaching of God’s word as to become wise unto salvation through faith in Christ Jesus?

“To those who are pious believers, I would say, you have chosen the good part, and God has begun a gracious work in you which he will carry on until it terminates in glory. So that by faith in Christ, shaving laid hold on the hope set before us, you may have a strong consolation, and go on your Christian course rejoicing. Be not satisfied with your present relative attainments, but press forward to the work of perfection, the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Use the appointed means of reading and hearing the word of God, not forsaking the assembling of yourselves for public worship, as many do, and by no means neglect the privilege and duty of prayer. Ask and receive, not only that you may have grace to serve God, but that you may also grow in grace and in the knowledge of your Lord Jesus Christ. In this way religion will become more pleasant. The nearer you advance toward heavenly perfection, the more delighted you will be with heavenly enjoyment. ‘O taste and see that the Lord is good.’

‘Come leave his pleasant ways,
And let us taste his grace.’

“Never be weary in well doing, for in perseverance, you shall in due time reap a glorious harvest. As an inducement thus to live and spend your remaining days, remember your judge and mind will ere long call us to answer, how I have preached the gospel and how you have improved it.

“I now turn to those of you whose future happiness is not yet secured by faith in the Mediator. Your situation is awfully dangerous. You are now suspended between the possibility of eternal happiness or eternal misery. You are now between the two vast extremes, or if I may more plainly express it between heaven and hell. Either celestial happiness or infernal misery must in a short time be your everlasting portion. How solemn is the prospect before you—the joys of heaven or the sorrows of hell, one of which must be your everlasting portion,—the latter except ye turn at God’s reproof. ‘As though God did beseech you, by us, we pray you, in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.’ Believe me when I say it is my heart’s desire and prayer to God, that you and I may have a joyful meeting at the judgment, in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ.

“As we expect this to be the last Sabbath on which I shall speak to you from this pulpit, let me say, in the presence of God who knows my heart, that I have endeavored and prayed that I might faithfully perform my ministerial duties. Though I am conscious of much imperfection, God is my witness, that I have ever preached such doctrine and precepts as I verily believe are agreeable to his word. I have repeatedly said, ‘the lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage.’ With gratitude to God, I look back upon the religious revivals with which he has blessed us and the friendly relations which have subsisted between us. It is no small satisfaction that as pastor and people we separated as friends, and that a pleasant intercourse subsists between myself and my successor, your present pastor. Never were the people more dear to me, I shall love them as long as I live.

“Excuse my plainness, and permit me once more to say in the fullness of my feelings, that my heart’s desire and prayer to God for you all is, that you may be saved. As it will not be long before we must each answer to God—I for my ministry, and you for your improvement of it, let us be diligent in what duty remains and in advancing toward heaven. Let brotherly love continue and abound, until it shall be perfected in the heavenly kingdom. And may God prepare us all to meet in heaven! I now bid you a cordial farewell, praying that it may fare well with you in this world, in blessings of health and prosperity, as far as shall be for God’s glory and your own good, and that in the future world, entered with your blessed Saviour into the joy of your Lord, you may FARE WELL.”

[excerpted from The Pastor of the Old Stone Church (1858), pp. 52-56. To read this work online, click here.]

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soltau_TStanleyYesterday we looked at the life and ministry of Dr. T. Stanley Soltau, missionary to Korea, pastor, and director of World Presbyterian Missions. Today we turn to Dr. Soltau’s little booklet, Our Sufficiency, for our Sunday sermon.


Not that we are sufficient of ourselves, to account anything as from ourselves; but our sufficiency is from God.” — 2 Corinthians 3:5

In this day of want and poverty in so many parts of the world, when even the bare necessities of life are hardly sufficient to meet the needs of millions, and when even in this favored land we have been warned of certain restrictions which we must face in order that in other countries starvation may be avoided; in days like this it is always encouraging to think of one source of sufficiency which never fails and never can fail, and a source which is always accessible.

The Apostle Paul in writing to his friends in the great city of Corinth, says, “Our Sufficiency is of God.” He is writing to Christians who were living in a city whose name was a synonym for vice and immorality, it was also a city famous for its commerce and culture; and when great wealth, and great education and great wickedness go hand in hand, it always makes things difficult for a real believer in Christ Jesus. In spite of that discouraging background however, Paul writes to his friends there telling them that they are an epistle or a letter to Christ, written by the Holy Spirit on their hearts; that is, their lives were so different from what they had been before knowing Christ, and so different from the lives of others, that it was clear to all that the Holy Spirit had made Christ Jesus not only real to them but real through them to others. The Apostle then goes on to say that he has this confidence that the testimony of their lives will continue because God is working in them just as He has worked in Paul himself, and will prove His sufficiency by making them competent in exactly the same way in which He made Paul, and those with him, competent for the work to which He has called them.

The word “Sufficiency” in the Greek includes the idea of being made competent, competent for whatever situation may arise or for whatever task which God may call upon you to perform.

Any man who possesses this conviction has a freedom from anxiety and a quiet peace and assurance in these days of uncertainty and difficulty that will carry him through to victory. I wonder if you can say “My Sufficiency is of God . . . He has made me competent, by the working of His Holy Spirit in me, for every emergency and every responsibility that I shall meet this day.” Can you say it and really mean it? If you can, then thank God for it and begin from this minute to practice it and to experience His sufficiency in your life. If you cannot say so, then ask yourself why.

He has made it possible for all if they will only meet His conditions, which are:

1. A humble and sincere confession of their own sins and helplessness.

2. A grateful acceptance of the Sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ on behalf of their sins, and then a joyful submitting of themselves, body, soul and spirit to Him; and a conscientious seeking to put Him first in all things, and a looking to Him for daily guidance and enabling power in all the decisions and activities of their lives.

As soon as that is done, His Spirit begins His gracious ministry in their hearts in order to make them competent and equipped to live victorious and powerful lives to His honour and glory.

It is a very helpful thing at the beginning of each day to remember this, and in faith to claim the equipment from the Lord, which He sees that we will NEED to meet the various temptations and testings which lie ahead of us; and then to start out the days work in assurance that He had prepared us for it. Let us do so now!

Our God and Father, as we bow in Thy presence at the beginning of this day, we ask Thee to equip us with all that we shall need to live for Thy honour and glory, and to please Thee in all things. In the name of Thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord we pray. Amen.

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O God of All Comfort and Mercy!

We focus today on the death of a covenant child, the son of the Rev. Andrew Hart Kerr. The death of any child is always difficult. I pray the following account will offer parents some consolation and pastors some guidance in their own ministry.

kerr_AHAndrew Hart Kerr was born on April 2, 1812. Raised in Virginia, he came to West Tennessee in 1854 and the town of Kerrville, which was laid out in 1873, was named in his honor. Rev. Kerr founded the Delta Presbyterian Church there in 1857, and spent forty-four years of his life in the ministry. In his time he was recognized as one of the leading lights of the Southern Presbyterian Church, serving as Moderator of the sixth General Assembly in 1866. Rev. Kerr died on September 16, 1883.

From 1865-1870, the Rev. Thomas Dwight Witherspoon was pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis. He and Rev. Kerr quickly became close friends, and so it was that when tragedy struck close on the heels of that sixth General Assembly, Rev. Witherspoon was there to minister to the Kerr family. At the graveside, he brought not only the eulogy for Rev. Hart’s son, but in later years, served the same sad task for two other Hart children. Eventually these three eulogies, along with an evangelistic message to children and an exhortation to parents, were gathered together and published as Children of the Covenant. I know of few such resources for pastors, though From Grief to Glory, by James W. Bruce, III, would be one recent work on this same difficult subject.

The Christian Observer covered the story of the death of the Rev. Hart’s son, Andrew Hart Kerr, Jr., who died of cholera just one day after the close of the General Assembly:—

“On Saturday, the 24th of November, while we were in Memphis, the Moderator of the General Assembly, Dr. Kerr, said to us, ‘Bro. Robinson, when you preach to some of our people tomorrow, I want you to preach, as I heard you preach once about how all the afflictions of the people of God work together for good.’ We complied with his request, little thinking, that within three days, our friend Dr. Kerr, would himself have such special need of that very truth of the Bible to sustain his stricken soul.

“We left him on Monday afternoon, presiding over the General Assembly with a dignity and grace that we seldom had seen equaled. And the first news we heard, was of the death of his noble boy on Wednesday. We had intended writing a notice of his sad bereavement this week, with special reference to that request that we should preach on that particular subject–the afflictions that come upon God’s people. but before we began our article, we received from a friend the following account of the noble boy’s death, which is so simple, so beautiful, and so worthy the serious thought of all our boys and girls, who have been recognized as member of the Church in their baptism, that we prefer to present this beautiful story just as it was told to us. We earnestly hope that the children will all read it, and be led by it to imitate the wonderful faith of this little boy, Andrew Hart Kerr:

“Andrew Hart Kerr, Jr., died Wednesday, the 28th day of November, after fifteen hours sickness, at 10 o’clock, a.m., without a groan or a struggle. He was 13 years and 18 days old. Six hours after the adjournment of that great body, of which you speak in such just and exalted terms in your paper, and the Moderator, Dr. Kerr, was receiving the warm congratulations and expressions of cordial love and esteem from the noble men just risen from the Lord’s council, his only son, Andrew Hart, Jr., the most promising youth of my acquaintance, and at least the equal of any I ever knew, was stricken down with cholera, and died in fifteen hours.

” ‘Hart’ was a child of the covenant, and though he had never yet made a public profession of religion, his was the most triumphant death I ever witnessed.

“When the child was thirteen months old, I was present as his believing parents gave him to God, by the hands of the late beloved and excellent Dr. Edgar, of Nashville, and then I knew the Master was there present, ratifying and approving the dedication, and often since have I said, that if I had no other and higher testimony in proof of the “doctrines of the covenant” in regard to infant baptism, than what I saw and felt upon that occasion, it were enough.

“From his earliest recollection, Hart had been trained up in “the nurture and admonition of the Lord,” and though a child in years, was well versed in the doctrines of the church of his fathers. The day before his death he sat during the entire session of the General Assembly among its members, listening with the closest interest to its proceedings, and at the close was deeply moved by his father’s parting address and the farewell greetings he there witnessed. When he was informed that he would probably not get well, and his father exhorted him to place his trust in his Savior, and to give his heart to God, he prayed long, earnestly and with remarkable force and intelligence, for mercy and forgiveness through the merits of a crucified Redeemer, in whom alone he relied for salvation, and when he concluded his prayer, in which he exhibited a thorough acquaintance with the whole plan of salvation through the cross, he gave the most indubitable assurance of his acceptance and reconciliation in Christ, and continued to rejoice and praise God, and to tell what a blessed Savior he had found, until his strength was too far spent to talk. The Rev. Drs. Adger and Joseph R. Wilson, of the Assembly, were present, and enquired faithfully into the ground of his hope; and when he told them he knew, young as he was, that he was a sinner, and that he must be saved, if saved at all, through the atoning merits of a crucified Redeemer, and that he had given his whole heart to God, and now felt that he had rather go and be with Christ and the Angels, than stay in a world of sin and sorrow, these good men could not refrain from shouting “Glory! Glory!! Glory to God in the highest!!!” as they heard then and there such clear evidence of His faithfulness to his promises, in the case of this child of the Covenant. They bid the crushed parent rejoice, and not weep amid such splendid manifestations of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

“Calmly he bid each one present goodbye, exhorting them to meet him in heaven, and gave to his sister, who was present, a kiss for his ma and sisters, who were absent, calling each by name, saying, “tell ma not to be distressed about me, that I died happy in Jesus, and have gone to heaven, where she and my little sisters must meet me.–When asked if he was afraid to die, he promptly replied, “No, no, who would be afraid to meet his Maker’s face, with Jesus for his friend?” “I know in whom I trust.” He spoke of different friends and relatives who had gone before, and whom he expected to see in heaven, and said,”I love my father and mother, and sisters very much, but I love Jesus more,and would rather go to him than stay here.” He suffered comparatively little, and never shed a tear from the time he was taken till he breathed his last. He was in full possession of his mental faculties, to all appearance, up to the instant the breath left his body, and until he could speak no longer, said his trust was in the Lord, that he was dying happy, without pain; and when he could not utter the words, he would respond with his head, conscious to the very last, never for a single moment doubting or wavering in his faith and hope of salvation through Christ Jesus as his Redeemer.

“Thus went out from earth one of the brightest minds I ever knew, and a bud of promise has thus early dropped from its stem, of which there was greater hope than any left behind. But as he said himself, ‘It is all right, God knows what is best.’

Words to Live By:
On the loss of a child, some of the most poignant pastoral counsel comes from the pen of Samuel Rutherford. In Letter II, we read these words of consolation,

“My love in Christ remembered to you. I was indeed sorrowful at my departure from you, especially since you were in such heaviness after your daughter’s death. Yet I do persuade myself that the weightiest end of the cross of Christ that is laid upon you lies upon your strong Saviour; for Isaiah says, “In all your afflictions He is afflicted” (Isa. 63:9). O blessed Second [i.e., the Second Person of the Trinity] who suffers with you! and glad may your soul be even to walk in the fiery furnace with one like unto the Son of Man, who is also the Son of God….But what? Do you think her lost, when she is but sleeping in the bosom of the Almighty? Think her not absent who is in such a friend’s house. Is she lost to you who is found in Christ? If she were with a dear friend, although you should never see her again, your care for her would be but small. Oh, now, is she not with a dear Friend?…” [The Letters of Samuel Rutherford. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1984, p. 34.]

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As is our habit, we present a sermon each Lord’s Day, and for today, we have a sermon titled “The Saving Christ.” This sermon is drawn from a slim volume entitled The Power of God unto Salvation, a book consisting of eight sermons preached in the chapel of the Theological Seminary at Princeton by the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield, who served as professor at Princeton from 1887 until his death on this day, February 16th, in 1921. 

While Dr. Warfield was a brilliant writer, known primarily for his theological and academic works, he is perhaps most accessible in his sermons. If you have put off reading anything by Warfield for fear it might be too difficult, please let me encourage you to take up this volume and read. I know you will find it rewarding:—


Faithful is the saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”—1 Timothy 1:15 (Revised Version).

In these words we have the first of a short series of five “faithful sayings,” or current Christian commonplaces, incidentally adduced by the apostle Paul in the course of his letters to his helpers in the gospel—Timothy and Titus—i.e., in what we commonly call his Pastoral Epistles. They are a remarkable series of five “words,” and their appearance on the face of these New Testament writings is almost as remarkable as their contents.

Consider what the phenomenon is that is brought before us in these “faithful sayings.” Here is the apostle writing to his assistants in the proclamation of the gospel, little more than a third of a century, say, after the crucifixion of his Lord—scarcely thirty-three years after he had himself entered upon the great ministry that had been committed to him of preaching to the Gentiles the words of this life. Yet he is already able to remind them of the blessed contents of the gospel message in words that are the product of Christian experience in the hearts of the community. For just what these “faithful sayings” are, is a body of utterances in which the essence of the gospel has been crystallized by those who have tasted and seen its preciousness. Obviously the days when this gospel was brought as a novelty to their attention are past. The church has been founded, and in it throbs the pulses of a vigorous life. The gospel has been embraced and lived; it has been trusted and not found wanting; and the souls that have found its blessedness have had time to frame its precious turths into formulas. Formulas, I do not say, merely, that have passed from mouth to mouth, and been enshrined in memory after memory until they have become proverbs in the Christian community. Formulas rather, which have embedded themselves in the hearts of the whole congregation, have been beaten there into shape, as the deeper emotions of redeemed souls have played round them, and have emerged again suffused with the feelings which they have awakened and satisfied, and molded into that balanced and rhythmic form which is the hallmark of utterances that come really out of the living and throbbing hearts of the people.

If we were to judge of the spiritual attainments of the primitive Church solely by these specimens of its Christian thought, we should assuredly conceive exceedingly highly of them. Where can we go to find a truer or deeper insight into the heart of the gospel—a richer or fuller expression of all that the religious life at its highest turns upon? Certainly not to the apocryphal fragments of so-called “utterances of Jesus” raked out of the trash-heaps of some Oxyrhynchus or other. But just as truly not to the authentic remains of the early ages of the Church; which witness, indeed, to a living, vitalizing Christianity ordering all its life, but which distinctly reach to no such level of Christian thinking and feeling as these fragments point to. We are thus bidden to remember that in these five “sayings” we have, not the total product of the Christian thought of the age, perhaps not even a fair sample of it, but such items of it only as commended themselves to the mind and heart of a Paul, and rose joyously to his lips when he would fain exhort his fellows in the gospel to embrace and live by its essence. They come to us accordingly not merely as valuable fragments of the Christian thinking of the first period—of absorbing interest as they would be even from that point of view—but with the imprimatur of the apostle upon them as consonant with the mind of the Holy Spirit. They are dug from the mine of the Christian heart indeed, but they come to us stamped in the mintage of apostolic authority. The primitive Christian community it may have been that gave them form and substance, but it is the apostle who assures us that they are “faithful sayings, and worthy of all acceptation.”

And surely, when we come to look narrowly at the particular one of these “sayings” which we have chosen as our text, it is a great assertion that it brings us—an assertion which, if it be truly a “faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation,” is well adapted to become even in this late and, it would fain believe itself, more instructed age, the watchword of the Christian Church and of every Christian heart. On the face of it, you will observe, it simply announces the purpose or, we may perhaps say, the philosophy, of the incarnation: “This is a faithfl saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” But it announces the purpose of the incarnation in a manner that at once attracts attention. Even the very language in which it is expressed is startling, meeting us here in the midst of one of Paul’s letters. For this is not Pauling phraseology that stands before us here; as, indeed, it professes not to be—for does not Paul tell us that he is not speaking in his own person, but is adducing one of the jewels of the Church’s faith? At all events, it is the language of John that here confronts us, and whoever first cast the Church’s heart-conviction into this compressed sentence had assuredly learned in John’s school. For to John only belongs this phrase as applied to Christ: “He came into the world.” It is John only who preserves the Master’s declarations: “I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world”; “I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on Me should not abide in darkness.” It is he only who, adopting, as is his wont, the very phraseology of his Master to express his own thought, tells us in his prologue that “the true Light—that lighteth every man—was coming into the world,” but though He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, yet the world knew Him not.

Hence emerges a useful hint for the interpretation of our passage. For in the Johannean phraseology which we have before us here—though certainly not in the Johannean phraseology only—the term “the world” does not express a purely local idea, but is suffused with a deep ethical significance. When we read accordingly of Christ Jesus coming into the “world,” we are not reading of a mere change of place on the part of our Lord—of a mere descent on His part from heaven to earth, as we may say. We are reading of the light coming into the darkness: “the world” is the sphere of darkness and shame and sin. It is, in a word, the great ethical contrast that is intended to be brought prominently before us, and in this lies the whole point of the incarnation as conceived by John, and as embodied in our passage. Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, came into “the world”—into the realm of evil and the kingdom of sin. In our present passage this idea is enhanced by the sharp collocation with it of the term “sinners.” For, in the original, the word “sinners” stands next to the word “world,” with the effect of throwing the strongest possible emphasis on the ethical connotation. This is the faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that the apostle commends to us—that “Christ Jesus came into the world, sinners to save.” What else, indeed, could He have come into “the world,” the sphere of evil, for—except to save sinners?

Surely, there meets us here a point that is worthy of our closest attention. We might have heard of Christ coming into the world, if the term could be taken in a merely local sense, with but a languid interest. But when we catch the ethical import of the term an explanation is at once demanded. What could such an one as Christ have to do in coming to such a place as the world? The incongruity of the thing requires accounting for. It is much as if we saw a fellow Christian in some compromising position. We might meet with him here, there, and elsewhere, and no remark be aroused. But by some change swing of the shutter as we pass by we see him standing in the midst of a drinking-saloon; we see him emerge from the door of a well-known gambling hell, or of some dreadful abode of shame. At once the need of an explanation rises within our puzzled minds, and the whole stress of the situation turns on the explanation. What was his purpose there? we anxiously inquire. So it is with Christ Jesus coming into the world; and so we feel in proportion as we realize the ethical contrariety suggested by the term. Thus it comes about that the primary emphasis of the passage is felt to rest on the account it gives of the situation it brings before us—on its explanation of how it happens that Christ Jesus could and did come into the world.

We despair of finding an English phraseology which will reproduce with exactitude the nice distribution of the stress. Suffice it to say that the strong emphasis falls on the fact that it was specifically to save sinners that Christ Jesus came, and that the way for this strength of emphasis is prepared by the use of phraseology which implies that there was no other conceivable end that He could have had in view in coming into such a place as the world except to deal with sinners, of which the world consists. He might indeed have come to judge the world; and in contrast with that the emphasis falls on the word “to save.” But He could not conceivably, being what He was, the Holy One and the Just, have come to such a place as the world is—the seat of shame and evil—save to deal with sinners. The essence of the whole declaration, therefore, is found in the joyful cry that it was specifically to save sinners that Christ Jesus came into this world of evil. And if that be true—simply true, broadly true, true just as it stands, and in all the reach of its meaning—why, then, from that alone we may learn what man is and what God is—what Christ Jesus is and His work in this world of ours—what hopes may illumine our darkness here below, and what joys shall be ours when this darkness passes away.

It would naturally be impossible for us to dip out all the fulness of such a great declaration in a half-hour’s meditation. It will be profitable for us, accordingly, to confine ourselves to bringing as clearly before us as may prove to be practicable two or three of its main implications. And may God the Holy Spirit help us to read it aright and to apply its lessons to our souls’ welfare!

First of all, then, let us observe that this “faithful saying” takes us back into the counsels of eternity and reveals to us the ground, in the decree of God, for the gift of His Son to the world, and the end sought to be obtained by His entrance into the likeness of sinful flesh. “Faithful is the saying,” says the apostle, “and worthy of all acceptation,” that Christ Jesus came into the world in order to save sinners.” That is to say, the occasion of the incarnation is rooted in sin, and the end of it is found in salvation from sin. And that is to say again, translating these facts into the terms of the decree, that the determination of God to send His Son and the determination of the Son to come into the world are grounded, in the counsel of God, on the contemplated fact of sin, and have as their design to provide a remedy for sin. 

To continue reading this sermon by Dr. Warfield, click here, and continue reading from page 38.

To read more about the death of Dr. Warfield, click here

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