George Washington

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The Virtual Founder of America

The German historian, Leopold von Ranke, was the one who declared that John Calvin was the virtual founder of America.

calvinJohn02Today, July 10, marks the birth of this Swiss Reformer, John Calvin, in the year 1509.  And yes, the usual focus of this blog is on American Presbyterians.  But Calvin’s influence pervades all of our history and our culture, so it is entirely appropriate that we should look at the man and his message.

Do we have any idea of how many Calvinists there were in our country up to the time of the American Revolution in 1776?  Loraine Boettner states that out of the three million citizens of the colonies at this pivotal time in our history, 900,000 were Scots-Irish Presbyterians, 600,600 were Puritan English, 400,000 were German or Dutch Reformed, and there were a lot of French Huguenots, who were Calvinists. Two-thirds of our citizens had been trained in the school of Calvin.

Calvin was the first Reformer to demand a complete separation between the church and the state. Note carefully what I  have just said.  It wasn’t a separation between God and the state, which is the commonly held interpretation today, but between the church and state. No one denomination was going to be the favored church of the government, as it was the case back in England. There would be freedom of religion. And that unique idea could be laid at the feet of John Calvin.

Next, our republic was to be looked upon as a representative republic.  In fact, if you look at the Presbyterian form of government, with its representative elders in the  congregation, we can see how the founding fathers of our Republic simply took a leaf out of the Presbyterian form of government.

Let’s enter next what has been called the Protestant work-ethic. Calvin held to the idea that every person’s calling can be characterized as a Christian calling, enabling them to serve God in every area of life. That has certainly helped our people work hard in their respective jobs, knowing that they are serving God in those jobs as well as that one who has been called to the pulpit to serve God.

Further, the Geneva Bible came to these shores by the pilgrim forefathers. This was the version whose footnotes were decidedly Calvinist.

For all these reasons, we honor John Calvin today.

Words to Live By: 
Today Calvinism is almost a dirty word. We need to reclaim its force in people’s lives and equally in our national life, if we desire to return to the greatness of our land. If you, reader, are largely ignorant of this Reformer and his place of influence in the early days of our people, make sure that you are not neglecting the Westminster Confession of Faith and catechism readings, which are a part of Calvin’s legacy. And delve into his Institutes of the Christian Religion, which will more than repay you in bringing Biblical theology into your faith and life.

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Rev. Robert DavidsonThe Danger of Political Preaching

The first serious resistance against the new United States government took place in western Pennsylvania, specifically, a rebellion against a federal excise tax being placed upon distilled spirits. Known as the Whiskey Rebellion, government officials were being attacked and run off by rebellious citizens.  What was to be done?

President George Washington responded by calling up twelve thousand federal militia from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland. Marching to Carlisle, Pennsylvania on the weekend of October 5, 1794, they settled down for the night.

Preaching in his pulpit that Lord’s Day at the First Presbyterian Church of Carlisle, was the pastor, Rev. Dr. Robert Davidson.  Davidson was forty-nine years of age at this time, and a national figure in the Presbyterian Church. He had served as moderator of the General Assembly just three years before this. He was also the Vice-President of Dickinson College, a Presbyterian school.

Seated among his congregation that morning were George Washington and the Secretaries of War and the Treasury of the new federal government. Dr. Davidson preached “A Sermon on the Freedom and Happiness of the United States of America.” His text was Second Samuel 7:23, which reads in part, “And what one nation in the earth is like thy people, even like Israel?”

In his introduction, Rev. Davidson assured his audience that the message of the gospel and the public concerns which concerned them now in this time of crisis, cannot be separated. His first point spoke about the fact that Israel is proof that events are driven by Divine providence  rather than by chance.  Further, the Jews were God’s chosen people.

The force of the sermon came with his exposition of the second outline point.  He soundly stated that God, in His great goodness, has bestowed upon the United States of America a high privilege as well. Indeed, the text was quickly changed to “what nation in the earth is like thy people, even like the United States.”

He went on to praise the militia, including their commanders and the commander-in-chief, President Washington, who had gathered in Carlisle, to teach the rebellious citizens and their  army that they should be obedient to lawful authorities. No wonder that the officers of the American forces requested this sermon to be printed  and given to the masses.

When the militia began to march, led by the only President who ever led a sitting army on a military mission, the mob—including their army in the western parts of the state—fled and were disbanded. About 150 of the more prominent dissenters were taken back as prisoners, and about a year later, were pardoned by George Washington. Following the presidency of John Adams, it was only under the third President, Thomas Jefferson, that the Excise Tax on distilled spirits was finally repealed. [HT to R. Andrew Myers on that correction]

Words to live by:  
Present day Presbyterian pastors need to think long and hard about preaching political sermons from the pulpit.  While there can be many spiritual points which can be gleaned for America from the chosen people of Israel, we are not the new Israel! We must—and we should—point out the courage of serving the Lord in all kinds of national distresses. We do believe that the God of the ages has caused us to be raised up for such a time as this.  We are a people with all sorts of privileges, and that puts a great obligation upon us to obey God’s will. But we are not the lost ten tribes of Israel. That much is sure.

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Man Knows Not His Time

In The Daily Princetonian (Volume 38, no. 345, 27 January 1916), we read of the Rev. David R. Frazer, D.D., a graduate of the Princeton University, Class of 1861, who for many years was a trustee of Princeton University, that he had died very suddenly on Sunday, January 24, 1915, while visiting at the home of his son H.F. Spaulding Frazer, who was City Counsel for Newark, New Jersey, and a nationally known attorney. Following the funeral, the body of Rev. Frazer was buried in the Short Hills Cemetery.

frazerDavidRRev. David Ruddach Frazer, D.D., was born in Baltimore, Maryland on July 10, 1837, the son of William R. and Eliza J. (Armitage) Frazer. He attended the Central High School of Baltimore, Maryland and attended Delaware College before completing his college education at Princeton University in 1861. He then spent three years at the Union Theological Seminary in New York, where he was graduated in 1864. In the same year he returned to Princeton and received a Master of Arts Degree, and in 1865 was ordained to the Presbyterian ministry. Dr. Frazer was then made pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Clifton, Staten Island, and held that position for two years, leaving it to preach at Hudson, New York. In 1872 he received a call to Buffalo, and was pastor of the Presbyterian Church of that city until 1880. He received a degree as Doctor of Divinity from Princeton in that year, and in 1887 was made a trustee of the University.

Portrait photograph facing page [15] in Centennial Celebration of the Dedication of the First Presbyterian Church, Newark, N.J., 1891.

Portrait photograph facing page [15] in Centennial Celebration of the Dedication of the First Presbyterian Church, Newark, N.J., 1891.

Dr. Frazer preached in Brooklyn for the next three years and then accepted a permanent position as pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Newark, New Jersey, being installed there on February 21, 1883. The First Presbyterian Church was the oldest church in Newark, originally Congregational by affiliation, and changing over to Presbyterian in 1720. Rev. Frazer followed the pastorate of the Rev. Jonathan F. Stearns, and was succeeded, after a vacancy of nearly three years, by the Rev. William J. Dawson. During Rev. Frazer’s tenure at First Presbyterian, the church gave substantially to the cause of  missions and church extension (i.e., church planting). He also served as the president of a home for the aged and infirm. Rev. Frazer served the Newark church until 1909, preaching up until June of that year. Retiring from the active ministry in 1909, Dr. Frazer was very much interested in the Theological Seminary in Bloomfield, New Jersey, and for a time acted as president of that institution.

Three published works by Rev. Frazer were located, the first of which can be found in digital format:
Memorial Jonathan F. Stearns, D.D. : a sermon, delivered in the First Presbyterian Church, Newark, N.J., Dec. 1st., 1889. Newark : Amzi Pierson & Co., 1889.  47 p.; ill.; 22 cm.

“The Building of the Old Church,” Centennial sermon delivered at the dedication of the First Presbyterian Church, Newark, New Jersey, on the text of Isaiah 49:16.

George Washington: An Address Delivered, Feb’y 22d, 1892, Before The Washington Association of New Jersey, by Rev. David R. Frazer, D.D. Also Letters Relating to the Execution of Major Andre, Presented by Mrs. Herbert Gray Torrey, at the Same Meeting. s.l.: s.n., 1892. 16 p.; 24 cm.

Something to Ponder:

From Rev. Frazer’s training and first several pastorates, we might have assumed he was of New School sympathies. Perhaps it is inappropriate to raise that question, given that most of his ministerial career occurred after 1869, when reunion of Old School and New School occurred. But given the question, some light may be shed by the memorial sermon that Rev. Frazer delivered on behalf of his predecessor at First Presbyterian, Newark—the Rev. Dr. Jonathan Stearns. Here the speaker, Rev. Frazer, undoubtedly emulates the object of his address:

“Dr. Stearns began his pastorate here at at time when the rival rallying cries of Old and New School were too well known and were too frequently heard in the Church. As the new Pastor was, in some points in sympathy with Old School views while the Church was in New School connection, considerable interest was felt, in some quarters, as to his probable course under these conditions. But both Old School and New soon learned that Dr. Stearns was no ecclesiastical partisan; that he was a peacemaker rather than a polemic; that his work was constructive, not destructive, hence he was peculiarly fitted to be one of the most influential actors in securing the reunion of the two bodies. Long before this topic became a theme of public discussion, he sought to rid the New School of certain ‘entangling alliances’ which brought that body into disrepute with the Old. He was influential in the establishment, and for many years was a member of the Home Mission Committee, helping, by his wise counsels, to shape that policy which saved to Presbyterianism many churches which otherwise would have sought a different ecclesiastical connection. His sermon on ‘Justification by Faith,’ preached before the Synod of New York and New Jersey, at Poughkeepsie, on October 25th, 1852, did much to allay the suspicions of the Old School body as to the theological soundness of the New. He was an influential member of the New School Committee on reunion and when the inner history of that movement shall be given to the world the record will show that no one man did more of the real, telling work which secured the desired result than did Dr. Stearns.

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This Day in Presbyterian History: 

The Rebel’s High Priest

On this day of June 23, 1780, an American Revolutionary Battle took place in Springfield, New Jersey.  Ordinarily we might think that this has no place in a historical devotional, but it does, because of the presence of the Rev. James Caldwell, pastor of the Elizabethtown Presbyterian Church.

Rev Caldwell was known as “the Rebel’s High Priest.”  His congregation in present day Elizabeth, New Jersey, had provided forty line officers to the American Continental army.  And Caldwell himself was the chaplain of  Col. Elias Dayton’s Regiment in George Washington’s army.

This military campaign by the British and their German Hessian compatriots was a major push into New Jersey.  They had a total of 6000 men.  George Washington’s army, faced with diminishing supplies and desertions of men,  had only about 3500, and not all of them  at Springfield, New Jersey.  So they were outnumbered 5 to 1 in their battles.

At the key point outside of Springfield, N.J., the American troops were out of wadding, the paper necessary to fire their muskets accurately.  All along the line, there came cries of “Wadding!  Give us wadding.”  Rev. Caldwell was then riding  up on his horse to encourage his men when he heard the cry for wadding.  Riding back to the Springfield Presbyterian church and manse, he gathered the psalm hymn books, and threw them to the men.  Referring to English hymn writer Isaac Watts, he called out “Give ’em Watts, boys, give ’em Watts boys.”

That line of “given them Watts, boys” has become the symbol of the forgotten battle of Springfield.  The British eventually retreated from the battlefield, making the battle of Springfield an American victory.  British troops never again entered New Jersey, with this battle being the last one up north in the Colonies.

Words to Live By: Rev. Caldwell would be killed a little over a year later, just as his wife had been killed at this battle.   The sacrifices of all our American Revolutionary forefathers involved much sacrifice.  The question naturally arises, what are we willing to give up for the sake of the victory of the gospel over the enemies of the faith?

Through the Scriptures: 2 Kings 4 – 6

Through the Standards: Rules to rightly understand the moral law

WLC 99  — “What rules are to be observed for the right understanding of the ten commandments?
A. For the right understanding of the ten commandments, these rules are to be observed: 1. That the law is perfect, and binds every one to full conformity in the whole man unto the righteousness thereof, and unto entire obedience for ever; so as to require the utmost perfection of every duty, and to forbid the least degree of every sin. 2. That it is spiritual, and so reaches the understanding, will, affections, and all other powers of the soul; as well as words, works, and gestures. 3. That one and the same thing, in diverse respects, is required or forbidden in several commandments. 4. That as, where a duty is commanded, the contrary sin is forbidden; and, where a sin is forbidden, the contrary duty is commanded: so, where a promise is annexed, the contrary threatening is included; and, where a threatening is annexed, the contrary promise is included.  5. That what God forbids, is at no time to be done; what he commands, is always our duty; and yet every particular duty is not to be done at all times. 6. That under one sin or duty, all of the other kind are forbidden or commanded; together with all the causes, means, occasions, and appearances thereof, and provocations thereunto. 7. That which is forbidden or commanded to ourselves, we are bound according to our places to endeavor that it may be avoided or performed by others, according to the duty of their places.  8. That in what is commanded to others, we are bound, according to our places and callings, to be helpful to them; and to take heed of partaking with others in what is forbidden them.”

WLC 100 — ” What special things are we to consider in the ten commandments?
A. We are to consider in the ten commandments, the preface, the substance of the commandments themselves, and several reasons annexed to some of them, the more to enforce them.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:  

First General Assembly Writes George Washington

Back on May 21, we wrote about the First General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church which met in Philadelphia in 1789.  It is interesting that part of their corporate decisions as a church was to send a letter on May 26, 1789 to President George Washington.  Its author of Dr. John Witherspoon, president of the College of New Jersey, and a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

After referring to President’s Washington military career and his unselfish surrender to the popular will of the people, it reads, “But we desire a presage even more flattering from the piety of your character.  Public virtue is the most certain means of public felicity, and religion is the surest basis of virtue.  We therefore esteem it a peculiar happiness to behold in our chief magistrate a steady, uniform, avowed friend of the Christian religion; who has commenced his administration in rational and exalted sentiments of piety, and who in his private conduct adorns the doctrines of the gospel of Christ, and, on the most public and solemn occasions, devoutly acknowledges the government of Divine providence.

It goes on to say “the example of distinguished characters will ever possess a powerful and extensive influence on the public mind; and when we see in such a conspicuous station the amiable example of piety to God, of benevolence to men, and of a pure and virtuous patriotism, we naturally hope that it will diffuse its influence, and that, eventually, the most happy consequences will result from it.  To the force of imitation we will  endeavor to add the wholesome instructions of religion.  We shall consider ourselves as doing an acceptable service to God, in our profession, when we contribute to render men sober, honest, and industrious citizens and the obedient subjects of a lawful government.  In these pious labors we hope to imitate the most worthy of our brethren from other Christian denominations, and to be imitated by them; assured that if we can, by mutual and generous emulation, promote truth and virtue, we shall render a great and important service to the republic, shall receive encouragement from every wise and good citizen, and above all, meet the approbation of our Divine Master.

In conclusion, the Assembly said, “we pray Almighty God to have you always in His holy keeping.  May He prolong your valuable life, an ornament and a blessing to your country, and at last bestow on you the glorious reward of a faithful servant.”

The teaching and ruling elders of this first general assembly saw in the first president of this country a Christian president.  And so they wrote him on this day at the same time the first Federal Congress was meeting.

Also on this date:
26 May 1858 — The United Presbyterian Church of North America (UPCNA) was formed by union of the northern aspect of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church with the Associate Presbyterian Church. Their union was formalized in an assembly held in the Old City Hall in Pittsburgh, 26 May 1858. A century later, the denomination concluded its existence in 1958 when it merged with the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. to form the United Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., on 28 May 1958.

Words to Live By:   W.C.F. 23:4  “It is the duty of people to pray for magistrates, to honor their persons, . . . to obey their lawful commands, and to be subject to their authority, for conscience’ sake.”

Through the Scriptures: Psalms 136 – 138

Through the Standards: Impossible to add a surplus of merit

W.C. F. 16:4
“They who, in their obedience, attain to the greatest height which is possible in this life, are so far from being able to supererogate, and to do more than God requires, as that they fall short of much which in duty they are bound to do.”

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