When the Fullness of Time had Come by David Myers and Wayne Sparkman
With this traditional day of celebration of our Lord’s birth on earth, and with the expectation of family and friends gathering for gift giving, meals, and fellowship, both Wayne Sparkman and I urge a reverent pause among our readers by reading (and perhaps to or with our families) a brief meditation on the first two phrases of Galatians 4:4, “when the fulness of time was come, God sent forth His Son . . . .” (NASV)
On the one hand, on whatever day of history Christ came to earth, we can state that it was the time appointed by the Father in ages past and realized in human time. His birth into time and space history had been ordained by the providence of God. Along with John Calvin, we must not presume to be dissatisfied with this secret purpose of God by raising a dispute as to why Christ did not come sooner. The prophet Isaiah states clearly in Isaiah 55:8, “For (God’s) thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways (God’s) ways, declares the LORD.”
On the other hand, God sent forth His Son, as the second phrase in Galatains 4:4 states, at a providential time in human history. Consider the following truths:
The philosophies of the age had run their course, leaving their adherents, spiritually empty. Reflect on the many idols of worship Paul found in Acts 17 as he stood in the midst of the Areopagus in Athens. Yet these idols did nothing to satisfy the souls of the people.
The Greeks had brought a cultural revolution to the nations, producing a common Greek
language to all the lands, which enabled the early disciples to communicate the gospel to
all peoples. They didn’t have to learn a new language to share the gospel, a fact which facilitated the spread of Christianity.
The Romans had conquered the then known world, bringing peace with order, which enabled the early Christians to travel all over with the gospel of real peace.
The Hebrews had all the prophecies regarding the coming Messiah completed, waiting for their fulfilment by the Birth of the Savior.
Truly, Christ came at the right time in time and space history. We can receive that truth intellectually, but far better to receive it spiritually. So let us make sure this Christmas that we have received Him as our personal Savior by faith alone. Let us pray for all members of our respective families, and friends, that they too have received Him as Lord and Savior.
And so on this December 25, 2015, we say Merry Christmas, dear readers of This Day in Presbyterian History.
And so our Saturday tours through PRESBYTERIANISM FOR THE PEOPLE ended last week. Apparently that book proved popular enough that its author, the Rev. Robert P. Kerr, was encouraged to expand the work and just five years later he published THE PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF PRESBYTERIANISM THROUGH ALL THE AGES (1888). For its summary nature, and for the benefit of the time line presented here at the end, we present today the final chapter of the latter book.
Rev. Kerr was born in 1850, began his ministerial career in 1873 as pastor of a church in Lexington, Missouri, and served churches in both the old Southern Presbyterian denomination [1873-1903] and in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. [1903-23]. Honorably retired and in ill health in 1915, he died on March 25, 1923.
The Spirit of Presbyterianism.
We have followed the history of Presbyterianism through a course of many centuries; have looked upon its origin, development, sufferings, defeats and victories; and have taken a survey of its present condition and prospects. The attentive reader cannot fail to have seen that the spirit of Presbyterianism, as exemplified in its fruits, is that of the broadest catholicity as well as love of the truth.
Truth, and man, for God, is its motto. The tendency of its operations has been to liberate men from superstition, to give them a thirst for knowledge and for liberty. It is the mother of republicanism in church and state. America, and Great Britain with its world- encircling colonial system, would not have been what they are to-day but for Presbyterianism, in Italy, Switzerland, France, Holland and Scotland. Knowledge and liberty dwell together, and they have come largely from the influence in past ages, of that heaven- born principle of which this book is a history.
The world owes to Presbyterianism a debt it does not feel, and one it can never repay. Comparatively few of the millions of men who enjoy the inestimable blessings of civil and religious liberty care to inquire whence they came, or stop to think how different might have been their lot but for the sacrifices of those who lived long ago, and whose names are oft forgotten. But those who do study causes and effects in the affairs of men, and who follow trains of events back to their origin, will come to render honor where it is due. The philosophy of truth is written in the annals of mankind ; its principles are outlined forever in the profile of history; and there always will be seers who will interpret to men the lessons of the past. Therefore there is no danger that the great doctrines and polity that cluster around the Presbyterian name will ever be forgotten. We behold in the Presbyterian Church a glorious benefactor of mankind in all ages; but it is not enfeebled. It is stronger than ever. We believe that the future has for it as great a work as the past has had, and we sons of a noble church are proud of our mother.
Does the Presbyterian Church despise its sisters, or claim to be the only Church of Christ? No; if it did it would be a contradiction of its very genius and spirit. It acknowledges all God’s people as brothers, and all evangelical churches as equals, inviting their ministers into its pulpits, receiving them into our ministry without re-ordination, and welcoming their members to a communion table which it claims not as its own, but the sacred meeting place of all Christians for fellowship with one another, and with their common Lord. This book will have been written in vain if its perusal should foster a spirit of narrow sectarianism. But if it serve the purpose for which it is designed, it will tend to make Presbyterians who read it love their own church more, and at the same time look upon the world and all the church of God with a broader Christian sympathy.
“And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three—but the greatest of these is Charity.”
A.D. 387. Augustine, pastor of Hippo, baptized.
1415.— John Huss burnt at Constance.
1536. — Calvin published his Institutes.
1560. — First General Assembly met at Edinburgh.
1564. — Death of John Calvin.
1572. — John Knox died.
1628. — First Reformed Church established in New Amsterdam (New York).
1638. — National Covenant signed in Greyfriars Churchyard, Edinburgh.
1643. — Westminster Assembly convened at the Abbey.
1648. — Confession of Faith and Catechisms sanctioned by Parliament.
1679. — Battle of Bothwell Bridge. Covenanters defeated.
1682. — Francis Makemie came to America, and settled in Maryland.
1685. — Revocation of the Edict of Nantes.
1688. — Restoration of Episcopal Church of England and Ireland.
1705. — First Presbytery organized at Philadelphia.
1706. — First recorded ordination to the ministry in United States, at Freehold, New Jersey; John Boyd the candidate. 1717. — The Synod of Philadelphia organized. 1727. — Log College, the mother of Princeton, founded.
1734. — Great awakening under Jonathan Edwards.
1739. — Movement headed by Whitefield.
1745. — Synod divided.
1758. — Synods of New York and Philadelphia reunited. End of Old Side/New Side schism.
1775. — Mechlenberg resolutions adopted.
1776. — John Witherspoon in Congress.
1788. — General Assembly organized.
1837. — The Church divided into two parts, called Old School and New School.
1861. — Separation of the Old School Church into Northern and Southern Divisions.
1869. — Reunion of New School and (Northern) Old School, at Pittsburgh, November 10th.
1875. — Organization of the Alliance of Reformed Churches throughout the world holding the Presbyterian System.
Rev. Robert P. Kerr’s little volume, PRESBYTERIANISM FOR THE PEOPLE, now moves to a short section on Presbyterian theology. There are three chapters in this section: (1) Presbyterian Theology; (2) Peculiarities of Calvinism; and (3) Calvinism and Self-Government. Today we present the first of these three chapters.
Incidentally, Kerr’s book appears to have gone through at least two printings. The PCA Historical Center has a copy with brown cloth boards and gilt lettering, printed in 1883. So much of the work produced for the Southern Presbyterian Church by the Whittet & Shepperson Printing Company had this same appearance—brown boards, typically with beveled edges, and gilt lettering. This then would be the first edition of the book. The Buswell Library at Covenant Seminary also has a copy, but with russet cloth boards and black lettering. This is most likely a later printing, though the same plates were used, as evidenced by the same typographical error in the numbering of Chapter VII. I don’t see that the book has been reprinted since that time.
“ For we walk by faith, not by sight.”—2 Cor. v. 7.
SALVATION BY FAITH IN A DIVINE SAVIOUR WHO DIED FOR MEN is the great central truth of our holy religion, and it is held by all evangelical Churches. If a man believes this doctrine, he is a Christian, and any denomination which really holds to it is a Christian Church. The differences between evangelical. Churches, while important, are not as the things necessary to the salvation- of the soul.
In the present condition of the world it is well that there should be several denominations. There is more work done, and better work, than if all Christians were in one organization. Now, it would be difficult to maintain the subdivisions necessary for efficiency without differences of opinion. There must be various centres of thought around which men may rally. There is a certain theological system called Arminianism, another called Calvinism, and there are different systems of government and modes of worship, all of which contribute to form the denominations into which, under the providence of God, the Church has been divided. ’The unity of the Church may be sufficiently realized by magnifying our common belief in the great truths of redemption, and in exhibiting at all times a charity, greater than faith and hope, which will shut the mouths of our enemies and command the respect of the world. One of the best signs of our times is the fact that most denominations now recognize one another’s churchship and work together harmoniously for the glory of Christ in the redemption of mankind.
But it is necessary that each division of the great army of Christians should be instructed in the things peculiar to itself, and ought not to be considered uncharitable if it exhibits and defends those distinctive institutions which give it being. There is also need of a brief exposition of Presbyterian doctrines, from the fact that there has been some misunderstanding among other peoples as to what we really believe. For example, we have been accused of teaching the damnation of infants who die in infancy. Though such a statement may seem unnecessary, it is now most emphatically made: The Presbyterian Church holds and teaches that all who die in infancy are saved.
The following is given as a general outline of Presbyterian theology. Some parts of it are taken from an old formula, of unknown authorship, and two articles from the Westminster Catechism;
SUMMARY OF DOCTRINES.
I. There is one God, the Creator, Preserver and Governor of the universe, who is possessed of every natural and moral perfection.
II. This God exists in three Persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, the same in essence and equal in all divine attributes.
III. The Scriptures contained in the Old and New Testaments were given by inspiration of God and furnish a perfect rule of faith and practice.
IV. God created Adam perfectly holy and constituted him the representative of all his posterity, suspending their moral character and legal relation to his probationary conduct.
V. In consequence of Adam’s fall all mankind are in a state of total moral depravity and are under condemnation.
VI. The Lord Jesus Christ, who is God and man, by his sufferings and death has made atonement for the sins of the whole world.
VII. Through the atonement salvation is freely offered to all sinners in the gospel; and though they are free to accept, yet they naturally reject, this gracious offer, and refuse to come to Christ that they might have eternal life.
VIII. God the Spirit, by an act of special sovereign grace, renews the hearts of all the elect and causes them to accept the salvation of the gospel.
IX. The foundation of the elects’ forgiveness and redemption is the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, received and rested on in faith.
X. God promises to preserve from final apostasy all who have been renewed in their souls, and to conduct them, through sanctification and belief of the truth, into the kingdom of glory.
XI. All men who hear the good news of the gospel and come to Christ will be saved. God from all eternity has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass, and yet man is free to accept or reject God’s offers of mercy.
XII. God has appointed a day, at the end of the present order of things, in which he will judge the world in righteousness by Jesus Christ, who will receive those that believe on him into everlasting happiness and sentence the wicked unto everlasting punishment.
XIII. The Lord’s Supper is a sacrament, wherein, by giving and receiving bread and wine according to Christ’s appointment, his death is showed forth, and the worthy receivers are, not after a corporal and carnal manner, but by faith, made partakers of his body and blood, with all his benefits, to their spiritual nourishment and growth in grace.
XIV. Baptism is a sacrament wherein the washing with water in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost doth signify and seal our in-grafting into Christ and partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace, and our engagement to be the Lord’s.
XV. It is required of the officers in the Presbyterian Church to accept the system of doctrines of the Confession of Faith, but persons are admitted as ‘private members on a simple profession of faith in Christ, a promise of obedience to him and conformity to the rules of the Church. Whatever admits a man into heaven ought to admit him into the communion of the Church on earth.
The greater part of this system of doctrine is held by all Christians, but there are a few important points in which we differ from other denominations.
The Presbyterian system of theology has been called Augustinian because it was first fully elaborated by Augustine in the fifth century, and Calvinistic because its greatest modern expositor was John Calvin, in the sixteenth century. The most complete statement of these doctrines was made by the Westminster Assembly of Divines, in the seventeenth century, in a “Confession of Faith ” which has become the standard of nearly all English- speaking Presbyterians.
Today we are pleased to have as our guest author the Rev. Dr. David W. Hall, pastor of the Midway Presbyterian Church (PCA) of Powder Springs, GA. It was Dr. Hall who so competently headed up the Calvin 500 celebration just a few years back, a celebration which included the publication of almost a shelf of new works on the life and ministry of John Calvin, with several of those works written by Dr. Hall himself.
On April 25, 1564, sensing the nearness of death, Calvin filed his final will. In it he pled his unworthiness (“Woe is me; my ardor and zeal have been so careless and languid, that I confess I have failed innumerable times”1) and thanked God for mercy. He appointed his brother, Anthony (whose reputation for divorcing an earlier wife due to adultery had been maliciously used to malign Calvin himself), to be his heir, and in his will he bequeathed equal amounts to the Boys’ School, the poor refugees, and his stepdaughters. He also left part of his meager estate to his nephews and their children. To vindicate Calvin against charges of greed, Beza reiterated what Calvin had stated earlier: “If some will not be persuaded while I am alive, my death, at all events will show that I have not been a money-making man.”2 When his will was notarized and brought to the attention of the Senate,3 members of that council visited the declining Calvin to hear his final farewell personally.
Calvin’s importance and relationship to the city leaders may be gleaned from his Farewell Address to the Members of the Little Council.4 The members of this council had gone to his home to hear his advice and to express their appreciation for the “services he has performed for the Seigneurie and for that of which he has faithfully acquitted himself in his duty.” A contemporary recorded his sentiments from April 27, 1564. In that chronicle, the dying Calvin first thanked these leaders for their support, cooperation, and friendship. Although they had engaged in numerous struggles, still their relationship was cordial. Even though he wished to accomplish more, Calvin humbly suggested that God might have “used him in the little he did.” He urged the senators to honor God and to keep “hidden under the wings of God in whom all our confidence must be. And as much as we are hanging by a thread, nevertheless he will continue, as in the past, to keep us as we have already experienced that he saved us in several ways.”
He concluded by encouraging each one to “walk according to his station and use faithfully that which God gave him in order to uphold this Republic. Regarding civil or criminal trials, one should reject all favor, hate, errors, commendations.” He also advised leaders not to aspire to privilege as if rank was a benefit for governors. “And if one is tempted to deviate from this,” Calvin added, “one should resist and be constant, considering the One who established us, asking him to conduct us by his Holy Spirit, and he will not desert us.”
Calvin’s farewell to these political leaders was followed by his Farewell Address to the Ministers on April 28, 1564. From his chamber, Calvin reminded them poignantly: “When I first came to this Church there was almost nothing. We preached and that was all. We searched out idols and burned them, but there was no reformation. Everything was in tumult. . . . I lived here through marvelous battles. I was welcomed with mockery one evening in front of my door by 50 or 60 rifle shots. Do you think that that could disturb a poor, timid student as I am, and as I have always been, I confess?” The farewell address continued to review his Strasbourg exile, the tensions he faced upon return, and some of his experiences with various councils. Calvin concluded by predicting that the battles would not lessen in the days ahead, warning, “You will be busy after God takes me, even though I am nothing, still I know I prevented three thousand uproars that there might have been in Geneva. But take courage and strengthen yourselves, for God will use this Church and will maintain her, and be sure that God will keep her.”
Calvin humbly confessed: “I say again that all that I did has no value, and that I am a miserable creature. But if I could say what I truly wanted to, that my vices always displeased me, and that the root of the fear of God was in my heart, and you can say that what I was subjected to was good, and I pray that you would forgive me of the bad, but if there is anything good, that you conform yourselves to it and follow it.”
He denied that he had written hateful things about others, and he confirmed that the pastors had elected Beza to be his successor. “Watch that you help him [Beza],” exhorted the dying Calvin, “for the duty is large and troublesome, of such a sort that he may be overwhelmed under the burden. . . . As for him, I know that he has a good will and will do what he can.” Further, he requested that senators not change anything in Geneva’s structures and urged them “not to innovate—we often ask for novelties—not that I desire for myself by ambition what mine remains, and that we retain it without wanting better, but because all change is hazardous, and sometimes harmful.” The advice from this leader is filled with layer upon layer of wisdom.
Always sensitive to the calling to lead in many sectors of public life, he concluded with a plea for his fellow ministers to recall how they would affect matters outside the walls of the church, too: “Let each one consider the obligation he has, not only to this Church, but to the city, which has promised to serve in adversity as well as in prosperity, and likewise each one should continue in his vocation and not try to leave it or not practice it. For when one hides to escape the duty, he will say that he has neither thought about it nor sought this or that. But one should consider the obligation he has here before God.”
When Calvin passed away almost a month after making these comments on May 27, 1564, “the whole State regretted” the death of “its wisest citizen . . . a common parent.” He was interred in a common cemetery at Plein Palais, finally finding the anonymity he craved. That, one historian wrote, was characteristic of Calvin in life as in death.5 The widespread notice and sadness at his death should serve to correct any faulty view that his contemporaries either despised him or underestimated his importance. He was mourned, and his large number of friends would keep his memory alive far more than some contemporaries would have predicted.
Source: David W. Hall, The Genevan Reformation and the American Founding (Lexington Books, 2003).
1 Theodore Beza, Life of John Calvin (contained in John Calvin, Tracts and Treatises on the Reformation of the Church [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1958], vol. 1), cxxv.
It was the happiest time in the ministry of John Knox in the sixteenth century. Ministering in what he had called “the most perfect school of Christ that ever was on the earth since the days of the apostles,” Geneva, Switzerland was where John Knox spent his exile from his beloved Scotland. It was not a vacation in any sense of the word. He preached three sermons a week, ministered to the English and Scottish exiles there, and studied the Scriptures in the Hebrew and Greek for the purpose of translating a new version to be known as the Geneva Bible afterwards.
On the tenth of March, 1557, Knox received a communication from five nobles in Scotland which stated that the faithful believers in Scotland “have a godly thirst day by day of your presence ” back in Scotland. Further, these believers are “not only glad to hear of your doctrine, but are ready to jeopardize their lives and goods in the forward setting of the glory of God, as He will permit.” In essence, John Knox was missed by the faithful back in Scotland who wanted him to return to them.
After receiving counsel from John Calvin and other godly ministers in Geneva, they with one consent urged him to return home. He left at the end of September, 1557, reaching Dieppe, France, on February 19, 1559. He had been there once before, and preached with great success to the Protestants of that area. However, upon arriving, he received two letters which brought him grief, as those same five nobles now urged him to delay his return to Scotland. He replied with vigor, urging them to change their minds about this delay. Meanwhile, in the intervening seven weeks before he was to receive an answer, he preached the Word of God in Dieppe with great results, with the number of the faithful increasing in that area.
John Knox finally received an answer with a renewed invitation to return to Scotland. Accompanying that letter was a bond or covenant in which the Protestant nobles pledged themselves to “maintain, set forward, and establish the Most Blessed Word of God and His congregation.”
With that, Knox tried to enter through England, but was not permitted to do so by the Queen. So he sailed directly to Leith, Scotland, landing on May 2, 1559, never again to leave his place of birth. It was said that the provincial council had been meeting for several days scheming on how to proceed to the trials of Protestant ministers in the kingdom. When they were in the midst of a meeting on May 3rd, one of the number rushed into the chamber to say, “John Knox! John Knox is come! He is come! He slept last night in Edinburgh!” Panic struck the meeting as they broke off their meeting with great haste and confusion. Nothing better could prove the importance of his timely arrival than the consternation it brought in the hearts of his antagonists.
Words to Live By: We will ever see attempts by Satan to hinder the great work of Reformation, both then and now. We thus need to see with the eyes of faith the oft quoted conviction of the apostle Paul, when in 1 Corinthians 16:9, he exclaimed that “a wide door for effective service has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.” Nothing has changed today for biblical faith and life. For every wide door for service, there will be many adversaries of the gospel. Be faithful, and despite their presence, work for Christ now.
“I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about.” —(Psalm 3:6, KJV)
As with many ministers and theologians, Thomas Smyth was afflicted with bibliomania. His symptoms appeared early in his life. As a young child, he was a voracious reader and while at Belfast College he worked as the librarian. Reading and cataloging were not sufficient to alleviate his love for books; he had to own them […]
Today we are pleased to have as our guest author the Rev. Dr. David W. Hall, pastor of the Midway Presbyterian Church (PCA) of Powder Springs, GA. It was Dr. Hall who so competently headed up the Calvin 500 celebration just a few years back, a celebration which included the publication of almost a shelf of new […]
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Unity Where There Was Disunityby Rev. David T. Myers This historical devotional and the May 27th devotional deal with the same topic, that of the Old Side – New Side schism in early Presbyterianism. On May 27, we will look at what caused the infant Presbyterian church to divide into two sides in 1741. On this […]
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GILCHRIST IN CHILE, Part 3by Dr. Paul R. Gilchrist On May 18, 1944 the Presbytery convened. One member declared, “When these two are got rid of, this movement will die in 24 hours.” Another spoke, “Brethren, we are throwing out the cream and keeping the skimmed milk.” Another pastor warned, “You will crucify these 2 […]
Today we bring you part 2 of Gilchrist in Chile, written by our guest author, the Rev. Dr. Paul R. Gilchrist. Dr. Gilchrist, now retired, served as the second Stated Clerk of the PCA, 1988-1998, and before that, as Stated Clerk of the RPCES, 1971-1982. But Dr. Gilchrist’s story, Gilchrist in Chile, is about his […]