Francis Makemie

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Our post today comes from guest author and good friend, Barry Waugh, who has recently begun his own blog, PRESBYTERIANS OF THE PAST. Where THIS DAY IN PRESBYTERIAN HISTORY has always been intended as a brief devotional based on Presbyterian history, Barry will in contrast be posting just a few times a month but with fuller treatment of the subjects he takes up. The following is one of his most recent posts, this on the New School Presbyterians and the availability of some rather rare Minutes of their Synod of Philadelphia:—

PhilaSynodNSMinutesDuring the course of your web-surfing or reading about Presbyterian history you may have run across the terms, “Old School” and “New School,” or their abbreviations, “OS” and “NS.” Before getting to the purpose of this post, which is the PDF download of the minutes of the Synod of Pennsylvania, New School, a brief explanation of the terms “New School” and “Old School” may be beneficial.

Old School—Generally speaking, the Old School believed—in a stricter or fuller subscription to the Westminster Confession of Faith and its associated standards; that the issue of slavery was a political and not a church issue; that missionary work should be under the direct oversight of the Presbyterian Church and not through independent mission organizations; and that the Plan of Union of 1801 affiliating the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA) and the Congregational Church had been detrimental to the Presbyterians because of some of the theological views and practices from New England. These are not all the points of disagreement but they cover most of the issues. It could be said that the Old School believed—the church should be directly ruled in all its ministries by elders connectionally associated through its sessions, presbyteries, synods, and general assembly, with its interpretation of the Word of God governed by a conservative use of the Westminster Standards, and it believed that the church’s ministry is exclusively spiritual and not political. Thus, the Old School had a strong sense of the Word’s warrant for presbyterian government as the church government and it held to the necessity of confessional standards for proper interpretation of the Bible and governing the church rightly in its spiritual ministry.

New School—Generally speaking, the New School believed that—a considerably lesser adherence to the Westminster Confession of Faith and its associated standards was acceptable, even necessary; the issue of slavery was within the bounds of the spiritual ministry of the church and many believed that immediate abolition was the best solution; the use of what might be called today interdenominational mission organizations was beneficial and more efficient for missionary work and church extension than committees overseen directly by the presbyters; the Plan of Union had not only benefitted the Congregationalists and the Presbyterians, particularly in terms of the growth of both denominations in the western frontier (i.e. New York, Ohio, etc.), but the New England theology influenced the PCUSA to be less rigorous and more open to differing doctrinal ideas.  The New School views could be summarized—the Presbyterian Church is governed by elders locally and connectionally but other polities, including congregational, are scriptural as well; the Presbyterians should participate in missionary organizations that are not under direct control of the denomination for more efficient evangelism; the interpretation of the Word of God by the Westminster Confession is of lesser or no importance for church doctrine and practice; and the church’s ministry is spiritual, but the spiritual work does not exclude political activism for what the church sees as pervasive sins in society.  Thus, the New School had a lesser sense of the uniqueness of presbyterian church government and a more inclusive idea of denominational ministry; a liberal, or nonexistent, adherence to the confessional standards for doctrine; and an expanded idea of what the spiritual ministry of the church looks like.

If you have never read anything about the Old School and the New School you are probably thinking that the two could not continue to exist together because it was a disaster from day one. You would be correct. The point for the beginning of trouble was seen by the Old School to be 1801 when the Plan of Union was accomplished. There were those who opposed the Plan of Union, but their appeals were not heeded. As the years passed, the members of the respective schools found their points of difference more polarizing, especially as the issue of slavery sectionalized both the nation and the churches. At the 1837 General Assembly of the PCUSA, the Old School had the majority and was able to undo some of the affects of the Plan of Union, the plan itself, and eject the New School. Obviously, it was not a happy situation following the 1837 General Assembly. The press, both private and religious, reported some of the unseemly moments on the floor of the assembly as commissioners railed and argued. Following the division, both sides claimed to be the true PCUSA.

Title Page, NS PCUSA Synod of PA, Minutes 1865, 11-11-2015When the Synod of Pennsylvania, New School, convened in the evening of Tuesday, October 17, 1865, in the Third Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, the retiring moderator, B. B. Hotchkin, the pastor of the Marple Church, passed the gavel to Rev. Thomas J. Shepherd of First Church in the Northern Liberties, Philadelphia. The meeting was particularly significant because it was the first annual meeting following the Civil War, the assassination of President Lincoln, and the inauguration of Vice President Andrew Johnson to the presidency. Since the previous synod meeting there were many things that had changed. For the New School, one of, if not the key issue for its identity, abolition of slavery, had been achieved. There was some optimism in the land about the future, especially if one lived north of the Mason-Dixon Line, but the optimism was tenuously mixed with different ideas about how the post-war situation with the Southern states should be handled. In the North, many adamantly contended that the former Confederacy should pay a heavy price, but on the other end were others desiring to see all the states working together as a reunified nation. In the South, there were many fearing retribution, wondering if they would have food, and apprehensive of finding work in the devastated economy, however, there were also numerous others consumed with anger against the North. Between the two poles of ideas in both North and South were a myriad of other perspectives.

The tension in the nation carried over into the meeting of the synod. The presbyters tended towards the heavy-price-to-be-paid view regarding the South’s future. The synod was meeting just a few months after the North and South had ceased killing each other and there was much mourning, ire, and bitterness. A series of six resolutions regarding “the State of the Country” were passed unanimously with a seventh added later, which was also passed unanimously. On the final day of the sessions as the business was coming to an end, a resolution was adopted regarding the health of Rev. Albert Barnes, who was a key figure of the New School and had been tried for heresy with the impetus provided by the Old School. Other resolutions regarding the usual house cleaning at the end of a synod were accomplished including the resolution of thanks to the host church. The synod adjourned to meet in the First Church, Carlisle, October 16, 1866, per the minute taking of Stated Clerk William E. Moore.

Please, download the free PDF of these minutes at the link below. The digital minutes were scanned from a copy owned by the author of this site. The minutes have an appendix that includes the synod’s standing rules; a directory of the presbyteries, churches, ministers, and elders; and there is a list of synod and presbytery officers.

BY BARRY WAUGH

To download these Minutes, click on the link below:
Minutes, New School Synod of Pennsylvania, Oct. 17, 1865, 10-1

 

 

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Today’s post was written for the PCA Historical Center in 2006 by Dr. Barry Waughand is reproduced here, substantially edited for length.

MakemieStatueThree hundred years ago this year the first meeting of the General Presbytery was convened in Philadelphia.  A specific date in 1706 cannot be pinpointed due to the loss of the first leaf of the minutes, but a letter of Rev. Francis Makemie provides the basis for assigning the year.  The letter was written by Rev. Makemie from Philadelphia, to Benjamin Colman on March 28, 1707.  After relating the story of his imprisonment with some other ministers for their preaching the Gospel as dissenting, non-Church of England ministers, he mentioned that he and six other ministers had met in Philadelphia earlier that month to consult regarding the best way to advance the Gospel.

Pictured at right, a statue erected in memory of the Rev. Francis Makemie, located at Holden’s Creek, Accomack County, Virginia.

This meeting is the first convening of the General Presbytery with a complete set of minutes in the manuscript record book, and these minutes are preceded by a partial and brief section of minutes recorded in 1706.  From this small and unfortunately imprecisely dated beginning, the Presbyterian Church grew to organize its first meeting of the General Synod in 1717, then its first General Assembly in 1789.  During these years the Presbyterian Church formally adopted the Westminster Standards in 1729, and then saw a division between the Old and New Sides in 1744 that was reconciled with a reunion in 1758.  The Presbyterian Church’s ministry increased through the years so that by the end of the eighteenth century it enjoyed a substantial flock distributed throughout the young nation for the purpose of glorifying and enjoying God.

The six oldest congregations in the Presbyterian Church in America can trace their ministries to the early years leading up to and following the first presbytery meeting.  Each of these congregations was organized before the first General Assembly in 1789 and its associated publication of the first edition of the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church, which contained the Westminster Standards and associated church government documents.  Through the colonial period and into the early years of America, the Presbyterian Church ministered through local congregations as America grew and prospered, and these six PCA churches can trace their ancestry directly to the foundational work of the Presbyterian Church in the eighteenth century.

1. The oldest organized church in the PCA is the Fairfield Presbyterian Church of New Jersey, which traces its beginning in New Jersey to 1680.

2. Manor Presbyterian Church, Cochranville, PA (org. 1730). The Rev. Samuel Blair was pastor here, briefly.

3. First Presbyterian Church, Waynesboro, GA (org. 1760). The earliest body associated with what became the Waynesboro Church was the Briar Creek Church, which petitioned the Synod of New York and Philadelphia for supply ministers.  In 1770 the synod, through the Presbytery of New Castle, sent Josiah Lewis, Princeton class of 1766, to serve as a supply pastor for sixth months in Long Cane, South Carolina, and then for three additional months at Briar Creek.  His few months at Briar Creek must have endeared him to the congregation because he continued serving both Briar Creek and an additional charge at Queensboro for a few years.  At some point, the Briar Creek Church became known as Old Church and continued to use that name until it merged with the Walnut Branch Church and eventually became what is presently the First Presbyterian Church of Waynesboro.

4. First Presbyterian Church, Schenectady, NY (org. 1760). The Schenectady church initially worshipped in the building used by the Episcopalians until in 1769 eight Presbyterians purposed to build a wooden place of worship for themselves, which was not completed until after the arrival of the first minister, Rev. Alexander Miller, in 1771.

5. Goshen Presbyterian Church, Belmont, NC (org. 1764). Early oral history traces the Goshen Church’s beginnings to a stranger who died and was buried on the knoll that became the cemetery for the congregation.  Near this cemetery, the congregation began to meet and eventually constructed a log worship building.  Through the missionary work of Elihu Spencer, a Yale graduate, and Alexander McWhorter, a College of New Jersey man, Goshen and other churches were able to worship and receive pastoral care.  In 1796, the Goshen congregation called its first minister, Humphrey Hunter, for a shared ministry with another local church.

6. Bethel Presbyterian Church, Clover, SC (org. 1764). As Goshen struggled in its early years, across the Carolina frontier in South Carolina, Bethel Presbyterian Church also struggled with the challenges and vicissitudes of frontier living.  The Bethel Church heard the first sermon in its frontier home from William Richardson, a missionary of the Charleston Presbytery, and just as Rev. Humphrey Hunter had provided ministerial stability for the Goshen Church, so he ministered for a few years at Bethel in the beginning of the nineteenth century.

For Further Study:
Only eight letters written by Francis Makemie are known to have survived to the modern era. Five of these letters, including the one mentioned above, were reproduced in the appendix to American Presbyterianism, by Charles A. Briggs, available in digital format, here.

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William Buell Sprague makes the notation in his Annals of the American Pulpit, that Richard Webster in his History of the Presbyterian Church in America, has this to say relative to Makemie’s trial—

Rev. Francis Makemie on Trial before Lord Cornbury“The Supreme Court met on Tuesday, March 11 [1707], at which time Makemie was present. The grand jury examined four witnesses, who testified that Makemie preached no false doctrine. His trial was set down for the June term; and Makemie, on his own bonds and those previously given, was allowed to depart. The law of the Province was, that all persons professing faith in God by Jesus Christ His only Son, may freely meet at convenient places and worship according to their respective persuasions. It will be seen from this that Makemie, in preaching in New York, was acting well within his legal rights. Notwithstanding his acquittal, his bail was not discharged until he had paid the whole cost of the prosecution, amounting to the sum of eighty-three pounds, seven shillings and six pence.”

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With the settling of the American colonies, scattered congregations and groups of people ready to be gathered into churches, together with the small number of ministers anxious for mutual encouragement and guidance, inevitably brought about the need and occasion for the formation of the first Presbytery on these shores. The specific occasion came in due season, with the call for the ordination of Mr. John Boyd to become pastor of the church of Freehold, New Jersey.

John Boyd, a native of Scotland, came as a probationer [i.e., a man licensed to preach though not yet ordained], probably at the solicitation of his countrymen, who, fleeing from persecution, had settled in Monmouth between 1680 and 1690.

Boyd was ordained by the Presbytery of Philadelphia on this day, December 29, in 1706, at the public meeting-house, before a numerous assembly. The original minute book of the Presbytery is preserved at the Presbyterian Historical Society in Philadelphia. Regrettably though, the first leaf of that book, comprising the first two pages of the Minutes, was lost long ago. We can only speculate as to the content of those first two pages, but we can try to speculate intelligently. Page 3 of the Minutes begins with the end of a sentence which appears to be concerned with the subjects of Mr. Boyd’s trial for ordination. The last half of this broken sentence is as follows: “‘De regimine ecclesiae’ which being heard was approved of and sustained, and his ordination took place on the next Lord’s day, December 29, 1706.”

Of course, we will always wonder what else we could now know if we only had those first two pages. At whose call and by whose authority was this Presbytery convened? Did they consider and adopt the Westminster Standards as their system of faith and government? The best supported opinion is that by this time Francis Makemie’s leadership had become obvious. For one, his trip to the old country for the purpose of bringing additional ministers back to the colonial churches, and the success of that trip, was probably well known. So it seems likely that it was Makemie who convened the meeting.

The Freehold congregation had apparently written asking how Mr. Boyd should be ordained, and so it was Mr. Makemie who arranged for a meeting in the spring of 1706 for the purpose of making the necessary arrangements for his ordination, with Boyd’s ordination trials to take place at what became the inaugural meeting of the new Presbytery in December. The record is somewhat unclear, particularly as to why the delay in settling Rev. Boyd. That took place in May of 1708, with the presbytery requesting the congregation to consent to his preaching every third Sabbath at Woodbridge. But he died later in 1708, and while his tomb remains to this day, Makemie—who also died that same year—and other ministers, most of them, lie in unknown graves.

Of the new Presbytery, George Hays observed in his work Presbyterians (1892):

“Presbyterianism thus grew out of the soil and of the necessities of the case. It did not begin at the top as it had done in France and Scotland, but began at the bottom and by degrees rose to strength. Now Synods are constituted by the act of the General Assembly, and Presbyteries are organized by act of Synod. Then Presbyteries were by the necessity of the situation. In 1717, the Presbytery divided itself and constituted a Synod above it; and in 1788 the Synod divided itself into subordinate Synods and created itself a General Assembly. There is no good reason to believe that this first Presbytery adopted any standards for their own guidance. It looks as though they came together assuming the Westminster Standards as authoritative without any special adoption in this country. They adopted the ordinary parliamentary law as their method of action. They did not even adopt a name, as Presbyteries now have names. It was simply “The Presbytery”; not of Philadelphia, nor of New Jersey, nor of Maryland. There was no other, and when it was spoken of there was no ambiguity. When, in 1716, the Synod was constituted by dividing the General Presbytery into four, these were simply named First, Second, Third, and so on. It was a day of great demands for activity, and of small resources of men and means to meet the requirements. This first meeting at Freehold was the only meeting which was had outside of Philadelphia. That city was so central and so accessible that the early Presbyteries always met there. So, with three exceptions, did succeeding Synods and General Assemblies, all the way down to 1834. The three men who were present at this ordination of Mr. Boyd were Francis Makemie, Jedediah Andrews, and John Hampton. The original members of the first Presbytery included these three, with George Macnish, John Wilson, and Nathaniel Taylor.”

Words to Live By:
Jesus promised that He will build His church. The promise is sure. And it is the Lord our God who sovereignly draws His people into the Kingdom as Christ is lifted up by the faithful preaching of the Word of God. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.

“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.—Ps. 127:1, ESV.

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The First Presbyterian Congregation in America?

This writer puts a question mark in our title simply because there are several churches which claim to be the first Presbyterian Church in the colonies.  Each of them presents its claim with good evidence. Sometimes a claim is based on the existence of at least one elder. Or the stated date of organization might be based on when Bible studies first began in a given location, or when a building was first occupied by the congregation. Time and poorly kept records leave all of this unclear. But what is clear about Rehoboth Presbyterian Church in Rehoboth, Delaware is, that it is the first Presbyterian Church built by the Father of American Presbyterianism, namely, Francis Makemie.

“Our mission was from Jesus Christ, and warranted from the Scriptures.”—Makemie.

There are actually two dates of October 15 associated with Makemie.  The first one took place in 1699 when the Irish immigrant minister appeared before the County Court of Accomac to request permission to preach the gospel in Virginia.  Many Christians, and especially Christian Presbyterians do not realize that those minister/missionaries outside of the Anglican faith had to apply for licenses to preach the gospel.  Further, if you were not attending an Anglican, or we would say today, an Episcopal church, there could be civil penalties for not attending church.  He asked permission to preach at two homes.  It was on October 15, 1699 that permission was given to him.  Later on, an Act of Toleration was granted for all ministers to freely worship and proclaim Christ’s truth.  But before that, preachers could be arrested and held in jail for daring to preach without a license.  Francis Makemie himself was arrested in New York for doing just that.

The other date associated with this date of October 15, 1706 was when Rehoboth Presbyterian  Church of Maryland, was opened by the Rev. Francis Makemie.   Rehoboth meant “There is Room.”  Later in the eighteen hundreds, there was a great deal of physical construction done to the one floor church.  Today this church continues on and it is currently a congregation of the PC(USA) in Rehoboth, Delaware.

Words to live by:  Suppose the Rev. Francis Makemie had not come to the shores of the American colonies, saying that it was too far, too expensive, too dangerous, and whatever excuse might be offered?  Humanly speaking, we might not be writing a Presbyterian blog because there would have been no Presbyterian presence in the land.  But that is “humanly speaking.” The truth is that the sovereign God ordained in the colonies that there be Christian Presbyterians as one of the key ingredients of our forefather’s faith.  And did they ever come!  Thousands upon thousands came over the Atlantic Ocean.  And from our earliest days, the Bible of Presbyterianism was presented as the infallible Word of God, and God added to Himself a church, such as Rehoboth Presbyterian Church, in Delaware.

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