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payne01Dr. J. Barton Payne joined the faculty of Covenant Theological Seminary in 1972, having taught previously at Bob Jones University, the Wheaton Graduate School of Theology, and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He was an active member of the Evangelical Theological Society, and an ardent student of Reformed Presbyterian history. A member of Illiana Presbytery (RPCES) at the time of his death in 1979, he died in Japan while on sabbatical, in a climbing accident on Mount Fuji.

The following sermon is drawn from among Dr. Payne’s papers preserved at the PCA Historical Center.



A Chapel Message at Wheaton College, December 7, 1964

By Dr. J. Barton Payne

Standing in first place in Wheaton’s statement of faith is the affirmation, “We believe in the Scriptures. . . as verbally inspired by God and inerrant in the original writings.” The importance of this commitment is clear: it places Wheaton squarely in the position of historic evangelicalism, or, to put it negatively, in opposition to the majority of organized Protestantism. Further, it gives to Wheaton a voice of authority in today’s relativistic world, an assured knowledge of specific truths that constitute distinctive criteria in the various academic disciplines, for example, in anthropology, of man’s special creation; in literature, of the prohibition of blasphemy; or in ethics, of absolute moral purity. The question, then, to be considered is the desirability of such a distinctive position. Why should we hold to the Bible, when the belief means accepting a minority status in Christendom and the stigma of “fundamentalist mentality” in the world as a whole. Put bluntly, Why do we do this? Is it worth it?

Essentially, I feel there are two different ways of approaching Scripture, or for that matter of approaching life in general: either trust in oneself, the internal approach, or trust in someone else, the external. Both are matters of trust, but it is a question as to which approach provides the more plausible basis. Frankly, I believe the second to be correct: the first can be dismissed as patently inadequate. For if a man has no higher standard than himself, this results in the hopelessness that characterizes so much of modern western thought. Life is beyond us; we are here just a short time and tomorrow we die and are gone. Further, from what we can deduce from our own natural observation, there is no hope beyond the grave. Corliss Lamont’s realistic study, “The Illusion of Immortality,” has been sobering to me, as it demonstrates that there can be no permanence, no transcendent meaningfulness to my life that is, if all we have is our own, internal judgment. Correspondingly, subjective criticisms, based on internal judgments, of the Bible do not really bother me, even though this is the basis on which most thinkers, and even Protestant thinkers, have rejected Biblical infallibility. For example, Millar Burrows, in his Outline of Biblical Theology (pp. 44, 47), begins by saying,

Much ink has been wasted . . . in the effort to prove the detailed accuracy of the biblical narratives. Actually they abound in errors . . . In the field of the physical sciences we find at once that many mistaken and outmoded conceptions appear in the Bible . . .

Archaeological research has not, as is often boldly asserted, resolved difficulties or confirmed the narrative step by step . . . Even in matters of religious concern the Bible is by no means of uniform value.”

[Please note that the above quotation is not Dr. Payne’s view; he is merely citing the view of Millar Burrows as typical of a view of Scripture with which he, Dr. Payne, disagrees. Please don’t misread this, as I did earlier today. Dr. Payne had a high view of Scripture.]

But the whole approach of this “I must pick and choose” position has been well answered by Louis Berkhof in his Introductory Volume to Systematic Theology (p.158)

The reasoning of those who take this position often sounds very plausible. They do not want a  theory of inspiration that is imposed on Scripture from without, but one that is based on an inductive study of the facts. But . . . it does not fit the case. According to it man faces the phenomena of Scripture just as he faces the phenomena of nature . . . which he must interpret and set forth in their true significance . . . He places himself above Scripture as judge, and opposes to  . . . testimony . . . his own insight.

But to whose testimony then can we go? Who is the “someone else” to trust? The response for the Christian is clear, namely Peter’s in John 6:68, “Lord; to whom shall we go: Thou hast the words of eternal life.” Christ, who has been declared to be the Son of God with power by His resurrection from the dead, is my answer to this world’s relativism. But it is here, from the viewpoint of the external authority of Jesus Christ, that Wheaton’s statement of faith in Scripture has, in recent days, received its more serious challenge, from neo-orthodoxy; and I am here using the term broadly for those who claim to be followers of Christ as king but who repudiate the Bible as a divine, binding document. One of my former seminary professors has called “the idea of inerrancy a ‘sub-Christian doctrine’ ” (Aaron Ungersma, Handbook for Christian Believers, p. 8l); and James D. Smart, in his recent volume, The Interpretation of Scripture, has well expressed both neo-orthodoxy’s belief and its disbelief: (pp. l6l, 199; 205):

When Jesus Christ preaches and teaches, His words are the very words of God, and in his actions  God acts . . . The word of Scripture had authority for him, but not in any slavish way … He refused to be bound to every word . . . Once he is bound to an infallible Scripture, his freedom is gone and with it his authority. Roman Catholicism imprisons Jesus Christ within an infallible church; literal infallibilism imprisons him within an infallible Scripture.

This is not to deny, nor does Smart deny, that the Bible contains teachings on its own inerrancy. But this alternative is proposed: forget these teachings; believe in the revelation of God through Jesus Christ, but dispense with the objective inspiration of the Bible.

Let us not, moreover, underestimate the reality of this appeal: why not escape the restraints of traditional orthodoxy, and yet retain the peace and integration of one who, say, has come forward at a Billy Graham meeting and found eternal meaningfulness in that “someone else” who is Christ? In particular I faced this appeal this last spring while in archaeological work with Dr. Free in Palestine. In my classes, students were enrolled from a number of different colleges and seminaries; and hardly a session would pass without somebody’s saying, “Why do I as a Christian have to believe XXXX, just because the Bible says it?” These questions, moreover, were not without basis: much of the Old Testament data is never mentioned by Christ. So finally, when time was available, I got away under a tree on the mound of Dothan, and prayed, “Alright, Lord, I am putting this matter up to Thee. I am willing to forget that I was ever a biblical evangelical, but show me what Christ would have me do.” Then I went through the complete records and words of Jesus asking myself, Does this really require me to hold to the Bible? Let me share with you four conclusions that I formulated.

  1. In Christ’s teachings it appears that the Bible is accepted as a guide and determiner of belief and conduct. For example, in Matthew 12:7, Christ’s statement, “If ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless,” assumes the authority of Hosea 6:6 on mercy and sacrifice; or, in Luke 16:29, He says, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.” This acceptance of Scripture particularly concerns its statements concerning Himself, as He says in Mark l4:21, “The Son of man indeed goeth, as it is written of Him.” But none of these situations require an inspired Old Testament, simply that what men wrote down did, in these cases, correspond to God’s will and to true revelation (not inspiration).
  1. His often-quoted general statements about the Bible can, if one tries, be limited to these same restricted evaluations, that the Bible possesses authority in certain areas but not necessarily inerrancy. For example, Matthew 5:18, “One jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” may mean merely that one ought to obey the law. Or John 10:35, “And the Scripture cannot be broken,’’ may mean that the Bible’s statements, in this instance on possible usage of the word “gods,” are examples of good doctrine. Or Luke 24:25, “O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken,” may mean, all that is about Himself, as verse 44, “All things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning Me.”
  1. But in statements of Christ involving specific aspects of the Old Testament, I found situations in which I could not “weasel out.” Let us note two areas: first, literary criticism. Christ’s phrase the “Law of Moses,” as just cited, might signify, not Mosiac authorship, but simply a book about Moses, like the Books of Samuel. But this is not true in other cases. Psalm 110, for example, is consistently written off by modern criticism as one of the later compositions in the Psalter. But in Mark 12:35-36, “Jesus answered and said . . . How say the scribes that Christ is the son of David? For David himself said by the Holy Ghost, Jehovah said to my Lord, sit Thou on My right hand . . .” He believed, not simply that Psalm 110:1 was inspired, composed under guidance by the Holy Spirit, but also that David himself wrote it. Even granting, for the argument, a certain inaccuracy in Mark’s records, the Lord’s whole argument still depends on the Davidic composition of this psalm. Again, in Matthew 24:15 He stated, “When ye . . . shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place . . .” But I do not know of a single neo-orthodox critic who believes that the man Daniel really said these words, or that they referred to matters that were still future when Christ spoke, in about A.D. 30. Second, historical criticism. In Luke 4:24-27 Jesus said:

No prophet is accepted in his own country. But I tell you of a truth, many widows  were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land; but unto none of them was Elijah sent, save unto Zarephath, a city of Sidon, into a woman that was a widow. And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet; and none of them was cleansed saving Naaman the Syrian.

Is He just quoting the well known Old Testament “stories”? On the contrary, He confirms the historical validity of even details in the record of Matthew 11:41 and Luke 11:50-51. Similarly, Christ accepted as fact so-called mythical or legendary events that Scripture associated with Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah’s flood, the destruction of Sodom, Jonah in the fish and Nineveh’s repenting, as well as others.

We must face it: no negative critic can maintain today’s usually accepted conclusions and still find correspondence with the mind of Christ on these points.

  1. The affirmations of Christ, as noted above, then develop necessarily into conclusions of total Biblical inerrancy. That is, if the Bible be accepted to contain valid doctrine, then one very clear doctrine is its teaching about its own full inspiration. Or, let us note the implications of one of the above cited specific teachings, on Adam and Eve. In Matthew 19:4-5, He stated:

Have ye not read, that He with made them at the beginning made them male and female and said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife…

quoting Genesis 2:24. But while in Genesis this verse is simply part of the Mosaic narrative, Christ introduces it as a statement by the Creator:  that is, for Him, the words of Genesis are equivalent to the very words of God. The only alternative to such a conclusion is to assume that the Gospel writers have misrepresented Him and do not depict the actual mind of Christ. The previously quoted neo-orthodox writer, James Smart, for example, is forced to a number of such reservations, and says,

Already in the Gospels there are perceptible indications of the tendency to attribute to Jesus in his earthly life both omniscience and omnipotence (e.g., his power over waves and storms and his ability to tell the Samaritan woman the story of her marriages. (Interpretation of Scripture, p. l62)

In other words, when neo-orthodoxy claims that “in Christ’s actions God acts,” it may do so while avoiding the evidence, shifting on internal, subjective grounds, away from the supernaturalistic beliefs of those who were closest to the events. Smart would then cover his procedure by introducing an over-emphasis in the other direction which his evangelical opponents do not claim, namely the idea of omniscience for the incarnate Jesus. There is the one known case, Mark 13:32, in which our Lord disclaimed omniscience, about the time of His second coming. But His own words made this limitation clear; and when He does commit Himself in speaking He possesses truthfulness (John 3:34). To take issue with Christ involves more than His lack of omniscience; it involves His falsehood. Hence Sigmund Mowinckel, a leading advocate of modern Scandinavian Biblical criticism, in his study The Old Testament as Word of God (p.74), seems to have faced the implications of Christ’s Biblical views more squarely, when he concludes,

If it is true that .Jesus as a man was one of us except that he had no sin (Heb. 4:15), then he also shared our imperfect insight into all matters pertaining to the world of sense . . . He knew neither more nor less than most people of his class in Galilee or Jerusalem concerning history . . . geography, or the history of biblical literature.

Here the issue is clear cut. Biblical criticism inevitably entails criticism of Christ. When I got up from under that tree at Dothan, it was with renewed conviction that the consistent follower of Jesus must be a humble follower of the inscripturated word, just as his Master was. Billy Graham’s message of peace, assurance, and power is inseparably associated with his confidence in what “the Bible says.” And if Wheaton ever exchanges its Biblical commitment for status in Protestantism or for a mentality acceptable in the world as a whole, it will have done so in opposition to Christ and His kingdom.

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The following discourse on baptism is from the Rev. John Black [1768-1849], of whom we spoke earlier in the weekRev. Black was a contemporary and close associate of the Rev. Alexander MacLeod, and would as well have known and been conversant with many other notable Presbyterians such as Samuel Miller, Jacob J. Janeway, and Ashbel Green. Rev. Black served as the first Stated Clerk of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America (New Light). As that body, through a series of mergers, eventually became part of the PCA, I suppose we could with a bit of stretching say that Rev. Black was the first Stated Clerk of the PCA. Or maybe not.

The opening portion only of this discourse is presented below. To read the full treatise, click the embedded link in the title:

delivered in the
First Reformed Presbyterian Church, in Pittsburgh.


Black_John_1768-1849Then Peter said unto them. Repent, and be baptized every one of yon in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” Acts ii. 38, 39.

The feast of Pentecost was one of the three solemn feasts, in which all the males in Israel were commanded to appear before the Lord, in the course of the year, in the place which he should choose. Deut. xvi. 16. It is also called the feast of weeks, because forty-nine days, or a week of weeks, must be complete after the passover, and on the fiftieth day it was celebrated; hence called Pentecost, or the fiftieth day. It was also called the feast of harvest, because, at that time, the wheat harvest was ripe, and the first fruits were to be offered to the Lord. The object appears to have been, to render thanks to God for his mercies, and to commemorate the giving of the law from Mount Sinai. Did it not also prefigure the descent of the Holy Ghost in such plentiful effusion upon the disciples of Christ on the day of Pentecost, and how plentifully the first fruits of the Gentiles should give themselves unto the Lord? It is worthy of observation, that it was on the day of Pentecost—the fiftieth day from the Israelites’ departure from Egypt—that God gave the law from Sinai, and on that very day—the day of Pentecost, he caused the gospel law to be promulgated.

The Savior, before he ascended, commanded his apostles to remain at Jerusalem, until they should obtain the promise of the Father, and be baptized with the Holy Ghost; for which, he assured them, they would not have to wait many days. This promise was fulfilled ten days after his departure. Then was displayed a remarkable manifestation of the divine power. A sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, is suddenly heard, which filled the whole house where the disciples were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues, like as of fire, one of which sat down upon the head of each of them—an emblem of the diversified languages which they were now to speak. At the building of Babel, the language of the people was confounded and divided, and thereby the builders were scattered; but here the gift of various languages was given, that the scattered nations might be gathered to Jesus Christ, the shepherd and bishop of souls. The solemn occasion had gathered to Jerusalem strangers in multitudes, who, it appears, spoke fifteen different languages, all of which the disciples now perfectly understood, and distinctly and fluently spoke, as if they had been their mother tongue, although they had never learned them. This filled all with amazement; but some mocked, and ridiculed the whole transaction, ascribing it to inebriation. The apostles resented this invidious reproach, and Peter, who was the chief speaker, shewed plainly, that this was the fulfilment of the prophecy of Joel, ii. 28—31, and preached unto them Jesus whom they had crucified, in such a powerful, moving, and effectual manner, the Holy Spirit setting it home upon their hearts, that they said unto Peter, and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? To which Peter answered, “ Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” In considering these words, we propose the following method:

1. Offer some remarks on the nature of baptism. 2. Inquire who are its proper subjects? 3. The Scripture mode of baptism.


1. Baptism is a washing with water as a sacramental act. It had been long in use by the Jews in receiving their proselytes, but not by divine institution. Baptism supposes impurity in the subject. Indeed, all washing necessarily supposes this. That which is clean may be wet, but can- not properly be washed. But baptism is called washing. Eph. v. 26, “ That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word.” The symbol is water only. It represents the blood of Christ applied by the Holy Spirit, Rev. i. 5: “Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood.” The application of that blood is by the Spirit of Christ, Titus iii. 5: “ According to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” The blood of Christ cleanses meritoriously, 1 John i. 7: “The blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanseth us from all sin.” The Spirit of Christ cleanseth us from all sin, by the effi- cacious application of the blood of Christ to the conscience. By the blood of Christ the guilt of sin is, at once, taken away in justification. The Spirit of Christ removes the blot and stain of sin gradually in sanctification. As water, free to all by the gift of heaven, when applied, washes and makes clean that which before was physically foul and unclean; so the blood of Christ, freely offered to all who hear the gospel, when applied by the Spirit, purifies from the guilt and pollution of sin, those who are morally defiled, and spiritually unclean. The instrumental administrators of baptism must be ministers of the gospel lawfully ordained, and no others. None have a right to act as commissioners, but such as have received a commission. The steward of a family is appointed by the head of the family. Jesus Christ, who alone is Lord in his own house, made all its laws, appointed all its offices and officers, and commissioned those whom he authorized to preach and baptize Before he ascended into heaven, he enlarged the commission of his apostles, which before his death had been restricted to the Jews: but now he authorizes them to go into all nations, whether Jews or Gentiles, and convert them to the faith of Christ, and promises to be with them always, even to the end of the world. The apostles were not to live to the end of the world. It could not, therefore, mean the apostles personally. Yet he says you. It must there- fore mean the officers, and that too, without the possibility of suffering the office to die, or the officers to become extinct to the end of time. The limit is the end of the world- the intermediate time, always. There never shall be an interregnum, or the office without an occupant, while the world stands. The apostles, as such, had no successors. The office, like that of the prophets, was altogether ex- traordinary. The claims of the Pope, and the no less groundless claims of diocesan bishops, to be the successors of the apostles, spring from ignorance of the gospel, and the government of the Church of God, as established by the Redeemer. The apostles possessed the ministerial, as well as the apostolical character; the ordinary office of the ministry, along with the apostolate. This is evident from the declaration of Peter in his 1st Epistle, v. 1: “The elders which are among you, I exhort, who am also an elder”—presbyter, or minister of the gospel. Now, to such characters, Christ gave the commission to preach and baptize. How daring, then, must it be for any who have not this commission, to undertake to preach and baptize. In 1 Cor. iv. 1, the ministers of Christ are called “stewards of the mysteries of God.” Are stewards self-appointed?

Or may they who are not appointed, act the part of stewards, as well as those who are? Since the extraordi- nary granting of commissions, in the days of the apostles, has ceased, the Scripture speaks of no way by which a commission is given, but by “the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.” 1 Tim. iv. 14. As a blessing was prayed for by our Lord, to attend the administration of the sacramental supper, so, by parity of reason, a blessing is to be prayed for, to attend the administration of the sacrament of baptism. This prayer sets apart the “sensible sign” in the sacrament, from a common to a sacred use. The water in baptism should, in this way, be blessed, as the bread and wine in the Lord’s supper, by praying for a blessing thereon.

2. Baptism is to be administered in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, to whom the baptized person is dedicated as covenant property. But as to immediate authority, like all other Church ordinances, it is administered in the name of Jesus Christ. Many mistakes have been made about baptizing in the name of Christ, and baptizing in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, as if they were different modes of baptizing. The truth is, both apply to every baptism. The mistake is in applying the same meaning to the word name, in both cases. Sometimes the word name means authority; thus a civil Court is opened in the name, that is, by the authority of the Commonwealth; and an ecclesiastical Court is opened in the name, by the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ. Again, name sometimes means property, or pos- session; thus a deed is made out in the name, or for the use, and as the property of some one. In the first sense, no ordinance is administered in the name of the Trinity. No ecclesiastical Court is opened in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. True it is, that all power, and authority originally belong to God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost; but there is, by the God-head, a delegated authority and headship committed to the Lord Jesus Christ, that the preaching of the gospel, the administration of sacraments, and all church ordinances, shall be done in his name, and by virtue of his authority. Thus all who are baptized, are baptized in the name of Jesus. They are also baptized in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, solemnly dedicated, and devoted, to be the covenant property of a three one God, to be for him soul and body, wholly and forever. Their engagement is to be the Lord’s and to take him as their portion forever.

3. Teaching must precede and accompany baptism. If the persons to be baptized were heathens, they must first be proselyted, and instructed in the faith. Mat. xxviii. 19: and all adults should be so indoctrinated, and instructed in the knowledge of Christ, and of the system of grace, that they shall be able to give a reason of the hope that is in them. It is the doctrine of Anti-Christ, that ignorance is the mother of devotion, while the Bible plainly declares, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” Hos. iv. 6. An ignorant man is represented as more stupid than the ox, or the ass. Is. i. 3: “The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib, but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.” Unless the person be previously instructed, he cannot have a firm persuasion that it is an ordinance of God. He cannot have a serious and thankful consideration of the nature of it, and of the end for which Christ instituted it. Every sacrament must be received by faith. But faith supposes knowledge. “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed, and how shall they believe in him whom they have not heard, and how shall they hear without a preacher?” Rom. x. 14.

4. As baptism is an enrolment of a new member of the church—an initiating into the visible society of the worshippers of the Lord Jesus Christ, it ought to be done publicly, in the face of the congregation. It is a declaration of visible membership, a distinguishing badge of discipleship, a sign whereby the followers of Christ are distinguished from pagans, or heathens, as the Israelites of old were distinguished from the uncircumcised nations around them. Private baptism is therefore contrary to the nature of the ordinance, a mean, and clandestine intruding of members into visible communion, as if by stealth. There is something in the very nature of the ordinance, that requires its public administration. The body of Christ is one, and the members of that body are also, “members, one of another.” Rom. xii. 5. And the apostle says, 1 Cor. xii. 13: “By one spirit are we all baptized into one body.” Baptism, therefore, presents to the body, another member initiated into their fellowship, and having a claim upon their prayers, their brotherly affection, their sympathy, and all good offices. Besides, the solemn ordinance, the vows and engagements of the person baptized, while calling for the accompanying prayers of the congregation, will also remind them of their own vows and engagements, and thereby excite to the improving their own baptism, and thus promoting their sanctification. Baptism, while in a certain sense, it is an initiating ordinance, yet does not originate the fact of church membership. Baptism supposes church membership, and yet it confers a membership which the unbaptized member did not enjoy. The fact of membership abstractly, is obtained, by making a profession of the faith of the gospel, or by being the infant seed of church members. This entitles to being recognized as a member of the organized visible church, to which the person is initiated by baptism. If attention is paid to the distinction between the kind of membership which is required to entitle to baptism, and the membership which baptism confers, it will refute the charge which is sometimes brought, of arguing in a circle, making membership the cause of baptism, and baptism the cause of membership. The distinction is obvious.

5. Baptism is not only a sign of church membership, as well as of Christ and his benefits; it is also a seal of the covenant of grace. A seal is used as a confirmation of bonds or deeds. Such was circumcision in the covenant made with Abraham, a “seal of the righteousness of faith.” Rom. iv. 11; and such is the seal of baptism, which comes in the room of circumcision, to all belivers, who are the spiritual seed of Abraham. By this seal Christ and his benefits are confirmed to the believer. These benefits are all the blessings contained in the promises of the new covenant, all embraced in grace here, and glory hereafter; Ps. lxxxiv. 11: “For the Lord God is a sun and shield, the Lord will give grace and glory.” A seal to a deed, covenant, or agreement, supposes the agreement made, the seal is a ratification of what the parties have agreed upon. A seal would be of no use without this agreement. None are agreed to God’s covenant but believers. I speak now of adults. Therefore, baptism seals nothing to any but believers. God promises every blessing to believers, and baptism is a seal of the covenant on God’s part, not to make the promise of the covenant more sure, for it is impossible for God to lie, his faithfulness is inviolable, and unchangeable; but to make the faith of the believer stronger. It is God’s ratifying to believers their right to covenant blessings with infallible certainty. And thus God, for the strengthening the faith, and removing the doubts of believers, condescends to bind himself in the most solemn manner, by bond and seal. Like as in Heb. vi. 18, where accommodating himself to the weakness of his people, he seals his promise with the solemnity of an oath. The blessings that are sealed to believers in baptism, are “remission of sins by the blood of Christ, regeneration by his spirit, adoption, and resurrection to everlasting life.” In baptism there is, as in every sacrament, an engagement to be the Lord’s—a renouncing the devil, the world, and the flesh, and an engagement to devote all that we are, soul and body, and all that we have, our gifts, graces, time, talents, com- forts and joys, to the glory of God. And this requires, to “deny all ungodliness and worldly lusts, to live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world.” In baptism the believer “sets to his seal that God is true,” John iii. 33, by believing his promises, receiving his testimony, and taking his law in the hand of the Mediator, as the rule of his faith, and obedience in all things. Adults in baptism, take these vows directly, and in their own persons. Children impliedly, through the representation of their parents. Parents are the natural guardians of their children. They are the most suitable persons to be their moral guardians, and representatives. Children are bound by the act of their representatives in civil things, and why not in the vows of baptism, if these vows are right—what the law of God requires? None can be bound by what is morally wrong, for all obligation is founded in the moral law, and what it forbids, can have in it no obligation—nothing binding on the conscience. Parents, in the baptism of their children, do not promise what their children will do, but what they themselves will do, in the discharge of the duties incumbent upon them, as Christian parents to their Christian offspring. Through their representation, the child receives the sacrament of baptism, and in that sacrament is contained the engagement to be the Lord’s, which, as we have seen, binds to all the duties which God’s law makes incumbent as a rule of life, to every one in their several places and relations, as superiors, inferiors or equals.

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O, That All Men Would Humble Themselves in the Presence of Our God.

A good Lord’s Day pastime, the following sermon by John Knox is one of the few committed to writing by him. His text is Isaiah 26:13-21. The historical setting of the sermon is explained in this preface:

knoxJohn04“Henry Darnley (king of Scotland by his marriage with queen Mary,) went sometimes to mass with the queen, and sometimes attended the protestant sermons. To silence the rumours then circulated of his having forsaken the reformed religion, he, on the 19th of August, 1565, attended service at St. Giles’s church, sitting on a throne which had been prepared for him. Knox preached that day on Isaiah xxvi.13, 14, and happened to prolong the service beyond the usual time. In one part of the sermon, he quoted these words of scripture, ‘I will give children to be their princes, and babes shall rule over them: children are their oppressors, and women rule over them.’ In another part he referred to God’s displeasure against Ahab, because he did not correct his idolatrous wife Jezebel. No particular application of these passages was made by Knox, but the king considered them as reflecting upon the queen and himself, and returned to the palace in great wrath. He refused to dine, and went out to hawking.

That same afternoon Knox was summoned from his bed to appear before the council. He went accompanied by several respectable inhabitants of the city. The secretary informed him of the king’s displeasure at his sermon, and desired that he would abstain from preaching for fifteen or twenty days. Knox answered, that he had spoken nothing but according to his text, and if the church would command him either to preach or abstain, he would obey so far as the word of God would permit him. The king and queen left Edinburgh during the week following, and it does not appear that Knox was actually suspended from preaching.”

The following are Knox’s reasons for the publication of this Sermon, extracted from his preface to the first edition.

“If any will ask, To what purpose this sermon is set forth? I answer, To let such as satan has not altogether blinded, see upon how small occasions great offence is now conceived. This sermon is it, for which, from my bed, I was called before the council; and after long reasoning, I was by some forbidden to preach in Edinburgh, so long as the king and queen were in town. This sermon is it, that so offends such as would please the court, and will not appear to be enemies to the truth; yet they dare affirm, that I exceeded the bounds of God’s messenger. I have therefore faithfully committed unto writing whatsoever I could remember might have been offensive in that sermon; to the end, that the enemies of God’s truth, as well as the professors of the same, may either note unto me wherein I have offended, or at the least cease to condemn me before they have convinced me by God’s manifest word.”


Isaiah 26:13-16, etc. — O Lord our God, other lords besides thee have had dominion over us; but by thee only will we make mention of thy name. They are dead, they shall not live; they are deceased, they shall not rise; therefore hast thou visited and destroyed them, and made all their memory to perish. Thou hast increased the nation, O Lord, thou hast increased the nation, thou art glorified; thou hast removed it far unto the ends of the earth. Lord, in trouble have they visited thee, they poured out a prayer when thy chastening was upon them, &c.

As the skilful mariner (being master,) having his ship tossed with a vehement tempest, and contrary winds, is compelled oft to traverse, lest that, either by too much resisting to the violence of the waves, his vessel might be overwhelmed; or by too much liberty granted, might be carried whither the fury of the tempest would, so that his ship should be driven upon the shore, and make shipwreck; even so doth our prophet Isaiah in this text, which now you have heard read. For he, foreseeing the great desolation that was decreed in the council of the Eternal, against Jerusalem and Judah, namely, that the whole people, that bare the name of God, should be dispersed; that the holy city should be destroyed; the temple wherein was the ark of the covenant, and where God had promised to give his own presence, should be burnt with fire; and the king taken, his sons in his own presence murdered, his own eyes immediately after be put out; the nobility, some cruelly murdered, some shamefully led away captives; and finally, the whole seed of Abraham rased, as it were, from the fate of the earth. The prophet, I say, fearing these horrible calamities, doth, as it were, sometimes suffer himself, and the people committed to his charge, to be carried away with the violence of the tempest, without further resistance than by pouring forth his and their dolorous complaints before the majesty of God, as in the 13th, 17th, and 18th verses of this present text we may read. At other times he valiantly resists the desperate tempest, and pronounces the fearful destruction of all such as trouble the church of God; which he pronounces that God will multiply, even when it appears utterly to be exterminated. But because there is no final rest to the whole body till the Head return to judgment, he exhorts the afflicted to patience, and promises a visitation whereby the wickedness of the wicked shall be disclosed, and finally recompensed in their own bosoms.

These are the chief points of which, by the grace of God, we intend more largely at this present to speak;

First, The prophet saith, “O Lord our God, other lords besides thee have ruled us.”

This, no doubt, is the beginning of the dolorous complaint, in which he complains of the unjust tyranny that the poor afflicted Israelites sustained during the time of their captivity. True it is, that the prophet was gathered to his fathers in peace, before this came upon the people: for a hundred years after his decease the people were not led away captive; yet he, foreseeing the assurance of the calamity, did before-hand indite and dictate unto them the complaint, which afterward they should make. But at the first sight it appears, that the complaint has but small weight; for what new thing was it, that other lords than God in his own person ruled them, seeing that such had been their government from the beginning? For who knows not, that Moses, Aaron, and Joshua, the judges, Samuel, David, and other godly rulers, were men, and not God; and so other lords than God ruled them in their greatest prosperity.

For the better understanding of this complaint, and of the mind of the prophet, we must, first, observe from whence all authority flows; and, secondly, to what end powers are appointed by God: which two points being discussed, we shall better understand, what lords and what authority rule beside God, and who they are in whom God and his merciful presence rules.

The first is resolved to us by the words of the apostle, saying, “There is no power but of God.” David brings in the eternal God speaking to judges and rulers, saying, “I have said, ye are gods, and sons of the Most High.” (Psal. lxxxii.) And Solomon, in the person of God, affirmeth the same, saying, “By me kings reign, and princes discern the things that are just.” From which place it is evident, that it is neither birth, influence of stars, election of people, force of arms, nor finally, whatsoever can be comprehended under the power of nature, that makes the distinction betwixt the superior power and the inferior, or that establishes the royal throne of kings; but it is the only and perfect ordinance of God, who willeth his terror, power, and majesty, partly to shine in the thrones of kings, and in the faces of judges, and that for the profit and comfort of man. So that whosoever would study to deface the order of government that God has established, and allowed by his holy word, and bring in such a confusion, that no difference should be betwixt the upper powers and the subjects, does nothing but avert and turn upside down the very throne of God, which he wills to be fixed here upon earth; as in the end and cause of this ordinance more plainly shall appear: which is the second point we have to observe, for the better understanding of the prophet’s words and mind.

The end and cause then, why God imprints in the weak and feeble flesh of man this image of his own power and majesty, is not to puff up flesh in opinion of itself; neither yet that the heart of him, that is exalted above others, should be lifted up by presumption and pride, and so despise others; but that he should consider he is appointed lieutenant to One, whose eyes continually watch upon him, to see and examine how he behaves himself in his office. St. Paul, in few words, declares the end wherefore the sword is committed to the powers, saying, “It is to the punishment of the wicked doers, and unto the praise of such as do well.” Rom. xiii.

Of which words it is evident, that the sword of God is not committed to the hand of man, to use as it pleases him, but only to punish vice and maintain virtue, that men may live in such society as is acceptable before God. And this is the true and only cause why God has appointed powers in this earth.

For such is the furious rage of man’s corrupt nature, that, unless severe punishment were appointed and put in execution upon malefactors, better it were that man should live among brutes and wild beasts than among men. But at this present I dare not enter into the description of this common-place; for so should I not satisfy the text, which by God’s grace I purpose to explain. This only by the way — I would that such as are placed in authority should consider, whether they reign and rule by God, so that God rules them; or if they rule without, besides, and against God, of whom our prophet hero complains.

If any desire to take trial of this point, it is not hard; for Moses, in the election of judges, and of a king, describes not only what persons shall be chosen to that honour, but also gives to him that is elected and chosen, the rule by which he shall try himself, whether God reign in him or not, saying, “When he shall sit upon the throne of his kingdom, he shall write to himself an exemplar of this law, in a book by the priests and Levites; it shall be with him, and he shall lead therein, all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, and to keep all the words of his law, and these statutes, that he may do them; that his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and that he turn not from the commandment, to the right hand, or to the left.” Deut. xvii.

The same is repeated to Joshua, in his inauguration to the government of the people, by God himself, saying, “Let not the book of this law depart from thy mouth, but meditate in it day and night, that thou mayest keep it, and do according to all that which is written in it. For then shall thy way be prosperous, and thou shall do prudently.” Josh. i.

The first thing then that God requires of him, who is called to the honour of a king, is, The knowledge of his will revealed in his word.

The second is, An upright and willing mind, to put in execution such things as God commands in his law, without declining to the right, or to the left hand.

Kings then have not an absolute power, to do in their government what pleases them, but their power is limited by God’s word; so that if they strike where God has not commanded, they are but murderers; and if they spare where God has commanded to strike, they and their throne are criminal and guilty of the wickedness which abounds upon the face of the earth, for lack of punishment.

O that kings and princes would consider what account shall be craved of them, as well of their ignorance and misknowledge of God’s will, as for the neglecting of their office! But now, to return to the words of the prophet. In the person of the whole people he complains unto God, that the Babylonians (whom he calls, “other lords besides God,” both because of their ignorance of God, and by reason of their cruelty and inhumanity,) had long ruled over them in great rigour, without pity or compassion upon the ancient men, and famous matrons: for they, being mortal enemies to the people of God, sought by all means to aggravate their yoke, yea, utterly to exterminate the memory of them, and of their religion, from the face of the earth. Read the rest of this entry »

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First Historian of the Associate Presbyterian Church

James Patterson Miller, the son of Hugh and Mary (Patterson) Miller, was born at King’s Creek, in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, on August 1st, 1792. His father, while he was not directly involved in the legendary Whiskey Rebellion, did apparently permit his house to serve as a refuge for some of those who were caught up in that affair. While James was still a young child at that time, he clearly remembered seeing two men in his home who, when visitors approached, would retreat to the upper loft and draw the ladder up behind them. His mother was sincere in her Christian faith and from his birth, prayed that the Lord would use James in the ministry of the Gospel.

James was educated at Jefferson College and graduated there in 1818. His studies were threatened when his mother died of dysentery and both he and his younger brother nearly died as well. In the years following graduation, he worked as a teacher, taking charge of several different academies, first in Virginia, and later in Ohio. Along the way he managed to secure some of his theological education, intending to become a pastor. but James also had a keen interest in politics. For a time he worked as editor of a political newspaper, but when his wife died in 1824, that loss made him realize his life’s purpose, and he was finally licensed to preach the very next year.

Miller was ordained in 1827 by the Presbytery of Muskingum, of the Associate Presbyterian Church. Initially he was installed as a home missionary, and a year later received a call to serve a congregation in Argyle, Washington county, New York. For twenty-one years he faithfully served this church.

One biographer notes that “Mr. Miller was a close and diligent student of the Bible in the original languages. He preferred to go to the fountain-head to find out exactly the mind of the Spirit, rather than trust any translation. Both himself and some of his children were in the habit of using the Greek Testament in family worship.”

Throughout his ministry, Rev. Miller exhibited a deep interest in missions, and at the advanced age of 59, he resigned his charge, preached his farewell sermon to a weeping congregation, and departed for the Oregon Territory. There in a small village of Albany, Oregon, where no church could be found and where the Sabbath was never recognized as a day of rest, Rev. Miller set about to establish a church. By 1853, a small congregation was meeting regularly. Miller preached his last sermon on April 2, 1854, speaking on the glories of Christ’s kingdom. Two days later, he made a trip to Portland, and on the return trip, on April 8th, the boiler of the steamboat exploded and Miller was killed instantly by a piece of iron hitting his head. Sadly, his wife and one of his children were present to witness the tragedy.

In 1839, Rev. Miller had compiled what must apparently be the earliest written history of the Associate Presbyterian Church, titled Biographical Sketches and Sermons of some of the First Ministers of the Associate Church in America. The Associate Church began in the American colonies in 1754, and then in 1858 it merged with the northern branch of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church to form the United Presbyterian Church of North America.

Words to Live By:
From the historical introduction to Rev. Miller’s Biographical Sketches, the following short quote seems pertinent to our larger purpose on this blog :

“But if the members of any society [i.e, denomination] are unacquainted with the particular history of their own body, they are in a great measure disqualified for discharging their duties as members. Every parent in the whole nation of Israel was required to explain to his children, the meaning and design of every historical monument that was erected to perpetuate any of God’s mercies wrought for that people. That parent in Israel, who could not do so, was incapable of performing his duty to his children, whose right it was to be instructed in the use and design of those things. Yea, he was incapable of discharging his duty to God, who required him thus to instruct his children.”

For Further Study:
Rev. Miller’s work, Biographical Sketches, can be found on the Internet, here.

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In the latter part of 1860, President James Buchanan made a proclamation setting January 4, 1861 apart “for fasting, humiliation, and prayer throughout the nation.” When that day arrived, across the nation special services were held in churches, public buildings were closed, and many businesses were shuttered for the day. Among the many Presbyterian pastors who answered the call to preach that day, the Rev. George Duffield, Jr. began his sermon that day with an overview of the nation’s long tradition of coming before the Lord with humble petitionWhen his sermon was later published, he added a brief Preface. Both the Preface and the sermon introduction are reproduced below.

Rev. Duffield begins:—

The history of this Sermon is a very simple one. The phrase “National Sins” in the President’s Proclamation, suggested an inquiry as to what these sins were? One of the sources of information on this topic, it occurred to us, would be the sermons that had been delivered on other National Fast Days. Many such being just at our hand, we turned them over with no little interest and curiosity. The more we “touched the bones of the prophets,” the more we felt that virtue came out of them.

“Faithful men,” indeed, were these old Fathers, to whom the Gospel in all its relations, both temporal and eternal, might be most safely entrusted! Though a reward was offered for their heads, they preached; though a Tory party in the Church might wish to keep them quiet, still they preached; though their brethren not infrequently found vehement fault with them for so doing, yet, the Word of God “burning like a fire in their bones,” they could not do otherwise than preach. The Chinese idea which so many have been endeavoring to inculcate of late, that “to speak of politics is to be guilty of death,” by such men as Mayhew, Witherspoon, Emmons, &c., would have been laughed to scorn! “Dumb dogs that cannot bark,” could not be said of them, any more than of Calvin, and Knox, and the staunch old English Puritans! Thank God that such men lived on this side of the Atlantic, as well as the other!

There is no excuse for us if we do not try, at least, to imitate their example. If ever the pulpit is to regain that influence which it has lost in our land, it must be by preaching occasionally such sermons as that of Dr. Langdon,* “Governments corrupted by vice, and restored by virtue,” May 31st, 1775, from a favorite text in those times, Isaiah 1:26. “And I will restore thy judges as at the first, and thy counsellors as at the beginning.” As ministers we must study, and quote, and preach upon that other text as often as they did, viz. : Isaiah 40: 12, “The Nation that will not serve Thee, shall perish;” further enforced by Jeremiah 18:3-10. The hitherto unpublished document of the old Chaplain in the Appendix will show how far we have drifted, we greatly fear, in the wrong direction. Stirring times may be before us, and that very speedily; “wherefore, let us gird up the loins of our mind, be sober, and hope to the end!” Should our humble effort in this discourse be of no further service, it may at least save some valuable ministerial time in the way of reference. The man who would write a good religious history of this Nation, could scarcely do his countrymen a better service. Is it yet too late for our American Wilberforce, Theodore Freylinghuysen, to do it?

*See the Pulpit of the American Revolution; or, the Political Sermons of the period of 1776, by John Wingate Thornton, Boston, 1860.

—George Duffield, Jr.

Philadelphia, January 5th, 1861.


For the Lord spake thus to me with a strong hand, and instructed me that I should not walk in the way of this people, saying,

Say ye not, A Confederacy, to all them to whom this people shall say, A Confederacy; neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid.
Sanctify the Lord of Hosts Himself; and let Him be your fear, and let Him be your dread.
And He shall be for a Sanctuary.” — Isaiah 8:11-14.

Went to church and fasted all day.” Such is the record in the private journal of the great “Father of his Country,” under date of Wednesday, June 1st, A.D., 1774; a day solemnly appointed by the Assembly of Virginia, on hearing of the passage of the Boston Port Bill, “as a day of fasting, humiliation and prayer, to avert from us the evils of civil war, and to inspire us with firmness in support of our rights.”

A year later, just after the battles of Lexington and Bunker Hill, the Old Continental Congress appointed a day of General Fast.

On May 17th, 1776, “which was kept as a national fast, George Duffield, the minister of the Third Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, with John Adams for a listener, drew a parallel between George the First and Pharoah, and inferred that the same Providence of God which had rescued the Israelites, intended to free the Americans.”

Could it have been in remembrance of this day in Old Pine Street [this was the original name of the Third Presbyterian Church], that “unfashionable as the faith in an overruling Providence” then was, this same John Adams was not ashamed to proclaim another National Fast, May 9th, 1798? Was it an evidence of the value of such a day, that even though hostilities had actually commenced between the United States and France, and a vessel of each nation had suffered capture, that such a body of men as the French Directory, so speedily and unexpectedly made overtures of peace, and that of their own accord?

In the fourth year of the second war with Great Britain, the example of John Adams was followed by President Madison, and January 12th, 1815, was recommended by him as a National Fast Day.

Even while the people were yet speaking, He “in whose hand the king’s heart is as the rivers of water; and who turneth it whithersoever he will,” heard their prayer; and only one month after, February 18th, 1815, they received “an answer of peace,” literally, and had the privilege of celebrating a day of National Thanksgiving.

The last two days of this character are within the recollection of nearly all here present, viz. : May 14th, 1841, being the day of national fast recommended by Mr. Tyler, on the decease of President Harrison; and August 3d, 1849, the fast day recommended by President Taylor, that God in mercy would arrest the further progress of the cholera.

Once more, and it may be for the last time, a Proclamation comes from the President of the people of the United States, designating this 4th day of January, 1861, as a day of fasting, humiliation and prayer, throughout the Union, that God may “remember us as he did our fathers.”

As Presbyterians, we are in no doubt as to the propriety of observing this day. “If at any time,” says our excellent Directory for Worship, “the civil power should think it proper to appoint a fast, it is the duty of the ministers and people of our communion, as we live under a Christian government, to pay all due respect to the same.” We are at no loss as to the manner of observing the day. “There shall be public worship upon all such days, and let the prayers, psalms, portions of Scripture to be read, and sermons, be all in a special manner adapted to the occasion.” As to the character of the prayers and sermon, the book is even more explicit still. “On fast-days let the minister point out the authority and providences calling to the observation thereof; and let him spend a more than usual portion of time, in solemn prayer, particularly confession of sin, especially of the day and place, with their aggravations, which have brought down the judgment of heaven. And let the whole day be spent in deep humiliation and mourning before God.”

Evidently in the minds of those who framed the Constitution of the American Presbyterian Church (adopted in the same year, and framed by some of the same men who framed our National Constitution, now in such imminent danger), the proper observance of such a day as this, both on the part of minister and people, was considered by them one of the most solemn and important duties that could possibly be discharged on earth.

“When the lion roars it becomes us to fear; when God’s hand is lifted up, and he appears about to strike, it is high time for us to strip ourselves of our ornaments, and to lie down in sackcloth and ashes.” As one of the watchmen on the walls of Zion, appointed of the Lord, if appointed at all, in Israel, “to hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me,” I must confess in all sincerity of heart, that never did I enter the House of Prayer on so solemn an occasion as the present—never did I venture to speak under a more tremendous pressure of personal and relative responsibility, to blow the trumpet with no uncertain sound! Business pausing in the midst of the week, and closing her shops, and stores, and factories! Religion throwing open her thousand temples, to invite within them those who believe that “only the omnipotent arm of God can save us from the awful effects of our follies and our crimes;” he only will speak aright at such a time as this, to whom God shall speak “with a strong hand,” and whom he will instruct accordingly. When “the voice of the Lord is upon the waters, and the God of glory thundereth,” all that man can say, is only as the faint echo that dies on the distant shore.

As appropriate to the occasion that has brought us together this morning, I propose, for the most part, in the way of an humble chronicler of the dealings of God with us, in our moral history as a nation, to direct your thoughts,

I. To Our National Mercies.
II. Our National Sins.
III. Our National Judgments.
IV. Our National Position.
V. Our National Duties.

Words to Live By:
Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward.” — Isaiah 1:4, KJV.

While we may readily point out the sins of our fathers, were our ancestors alive today, what sins of ours would cause them to cover their faces and despise our claim to be Christians? We have no moral superiority over former generations. If anything, we may be in a far more precarious position. And so as true today as ever, we need humility and repentance as we stand before our Lord. We need to cry out for His mercy and we desperately need the fear of the Lord. We stray so easily, and so repentance must become a daily, even constant discipline. Salvation belongs to the Lord. His blessing is upon His people. On Him we can rely.



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