The Rev. J. J. Janeway’s Review of The Divine Appointment, the Duties and the Qualifications of Ruling Elders; a Sermon preached inthe First Presbyterian Church, in the City of New York, May 28, 1819, by Samuel Miller, D.D., in The Presbyterian Magazine,1.4 (April 1821) 170-177.
[Rev. Janeway is pictured at left; Rev. Miller, at right]
The Church of God is that holy society established by Himself on earth for the maintenance of His worship, and the promotion of His glory, in the midst of a race of rebellious creatures. It is styled His house or family; and it ought not to be doubted, that this house of the living God, like that of every wise man, is subject to wholesome regulations.
Under the former dispensation it was governed by laws delivered with great solemnity, and placed under the ministry of men, whose offices and duties were defined with great precision. As government is as necessary to the welfare and prosperity of the church under the present, as under the preceding economy, it were marvelous indeed, if, at a period when God has blessed His people with the clearest light and the greatest privileges, he should have deprived them of the benefit of a government framed by His own wisdom, and committed to their interests to one devised by the wisdom and prudence of fallible men. We believe that He has provided a constitution, and appointed officers for the government of the Christian, as He had done before for the Jewish church.
Great diversity, it is true, does exist in the views of Christians in regard to the plan prescribed in the New Testament for ordering the affairs of this heavenly society; but this diversity of sentiment no more proves that no such plan is to be found in the inspired writings, than the discordance in the views which Christians of different denominations entertain in regard to revealed truths, proves that the particular doctrines in dispute are not taught by the sacred writers. That some doctrines are not revealed with such clearness as to secure uniformity of faith among all the pious disciples of Christ, is manifest; and therefore, while we deplore this want of unity of judgment, and pray for the arrival of that time when all shall be of one mind, we ought to bear with the infirmities and errors of others, and cordially love all who hold the head, Jesus Christ, how much soever they may differ from us in points not essential to the existence of unfeigned piety.
From the fact, that men of great learning and acknowledged godliness have differed widely from each other in regard to church government, it is equally manifest, that the principles of it laid down in the New Testament, are not stated with sufficient clearness to harmonize the views of all Christians on this important subject, in the present state of the world, liable as men are to have their sentiments affected by education and a thousand different circumstances. Whether one and the same ecclesiastical polity will prevail over the whole church, in that day of light and glory, to which the finger of prophecy directs the eye of faith, we shall not undertake to assert. But this we venture to affirm, that, although diversity of sentiment has sadly cut up the church into many sects, yet Christians, by whatever name called, are bound to love one another; and we see no reason why pious Episcopalians, and Presbyterians, and Methodists, and Baptists, &c. might not, in proper circumstances, hold occasional communion with each other at the table of our common Lord and Saviour.
Principles of ecclesiastical government, however, are not to be regarded as matters of indifference. They are important; and it is the duty of every church, to endeavour to discover those which have been laid down in the records of divine truth, and to adopt them in the management of its affairs. A greater degree of harmony of views on this subject existed among the reformers, than exists among ministers at present. Archibishop Cranmer, and many bishops and learned divines of the Episcopal Church of England, so far from advancing the exclusive notions embraced by some of their successors in that church, and elsewhere, entertained the same opinions on church government as the Helvetic churches. (See note N., p. 427, in Mr. McCrie’s Life of John Knox). As Presbyterians, we are sincerely attached to that form of ecclesiastical government which was adopted by the wisdom and piety of our forefathers; and we believe that it approaches nearer to the Scriptural plan than that of any other church.
The Christian public are indebted to the pen of the author of this sermon for an able and temperate vindication of the great doctrine of ministerial parity, in opposition to diocesan Episcopacy. In this discourse he has selected as the subject of discussion the office of ruling elders. It was preached in May, 1809, when several individuals were ordained to that office in the First Presbyterian Church in the city of New York, of which he was at that time one of the pastors; but owing to the delicate state of his health, and unavoidable engagements, he was prevented from complying with his promise to his friends, who had requested its publication, till January, 1811.
Thomas Dwight Witherspoon, D.D., LL.D., by Richard H. Collins, LL.D., LOUISVILLE, Ky.
Rev. Thomas Dwight Witherspoon, D.D., LL.D., pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, Louisville, Ky., was born January 17th, 1886, in the village of Greensboro, Hale County, Alabama. He is now forty-nine years of age, just in the maturity of his powers.
His was a godly family; for his father and his father’s fathers for six generations were elders of the Presbyterian Church. And away back yonder, in the never dim but ever brightening distance, some of the gentle blood that now courses in his veins gave life and zeal and boldness and energy and vehemence and power unwonted to John Knox, the great leader of the Protestant Reformation in Scotland, 1505-1372, more than three hundred years ago.
John Witherspoon, D.D., LL.D.. President of Princeton College, New Jersey, 1788-1788, a sturdy Scotch minister, theologian and statesman, whom readers of American history remember as a signer of the Declaration of Independence and a leader in the dark days of the American Revolution, was also in the line of direct ancestry: and a man of whom his children’s children to the latest generation may speak with honest pride. This pride of illustrious descent is with many people an excuse for lack of energy and personal excellence and success; but all those who have the root of the matter in them may well be thankful for God-fearing ancestors, who in their day and time were men of great excellence and boldness in the faith.
Robert Franklin Witherspoon and Sarah Agnes, his wife, were Presbyterians from principle, Christians of ardent piety. They were Bible readers and Bible scholars, and fond of theological inquiry; and in their admiration of the writings of the great theologian, Timothy Dwight, deemed it a graceful acknowledgment of the great things constantly found therein to name their boy Thomas Dwight—indulging a presentiment that the babe would some day grow to the stature of a theologian and leader in the Church. The training of the boy by the death of the father when he was only four years old, devolved upon the mother, and right bravely did she stand up to the responsibility thus cast upon her. At the early age of ten, her little boy gave beautiful proof of pious training, by publicly confessing Christ, one of a number brought into the fold under the preaching of Rev. Robert Nall, D.D., the evangelist of the Synod of Alabama.
In 1853, when seventeen years old, young Witherspoon entered upon his college course in the sophomore class of the University of Alabama; but in 1854 transferred his connection to the University of Mississippi, where he graduated in 1856 with the highest honors of his class. The same fall he entered the Theological Seminary at Columbia, South Carolina, where under the professorships of Doctors James H. Thornwell, Aaron W. Leland, George Howe, and John H. Adger, he completed the course, and in May, 1859, received his theological certificate or diploma.
The Presbytery of Chickasaw, of the Synod of Memphis, on June 6th, 1859, licensed him as a probationer for the Gospel ministry; and the same Presbytery on May 13th, 1860, ordained him to the full work of the ministry, and installed him as pastor of the Presbyterian church at Oxford, Mississippi.
This call to the church (his first church) in the town of the University from which he graduated with high honor in 1856, less than four years before, was a high compliment to him personally, and practically a high eulogy upon the character of his preaching—-its warmth and earnestness, and attractiveness to the young, of whom so many were gathered in the university and female schools of the town. His labors here were owned of God, in abundant blessing.
But in a twelvemonth a great change came over this quiet scene of peace and love between pastor and young people. The young men of his congregation and neighborhood, with the deep courage of their convictions, hesitated not for an hour when the tocsin of war—the War of the Rebellion—was sounded all over the land. The young preacher, no longer only their friend and pastor and spiritual adviser, became their fellow-soldier, enlisting as a private in the Lamar Rifles of the Eleventh Mississippi Volunteers. Thus the first year of the war passed; and thenceforward to the final surrender at Appomattox Court House, he was their chaplain, sharing in their hardships, nursing them in sickness, administering the consolations of the Gospel to the dying, and sending to the loved ones at home the messages entrusted to him at the last and painful parting.
The war was over at last, and the scene changed again. Laying aside the soldier and the chaplain, he entered upon another field, to preach again the Gospel of peace and love and mediatorial sacrifice, In August, he became pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church at Memphis, where he labored with marked success and blessing for five years—until August, 1870, when his health broke down under excessive exertion in a malarial climate, and forced him to resign a pastorate which had shown the ripe fruit of growth from 160 to 410 in membership, and became the strongest and most influential of that denomination in the city. And this, too, through epidemics of both cholera and yellow fever!
In the mountains of Virginia, as supply to the church at Christiansburg. Dr. Witherspoon spent the next years; and during the succeeding two years was chaplain of the University of Virginia, near Charlottesville.
In the summer of 1873, as a further means of restoring his impaired health, Dr. Witherspoon crossed the ocean, and travelled extensively in Europe. On his return, in October, 1873, he accepted the pastorate of Tabb Street Presbyterian Church, in Petersburg, Va., one of the largest in the South. After nine years of marked usefulness here, a unanimous call to the old First Presbyterian Church of Louisville, Ky., opened up a wider field, and which he felt it duty to accept.
Since settling there in the fall of 1882, as if the labor of that important church were not enough to tax his superabundant energy, he has been chairman of the Committee of Evangelistic Labor of the Synod of Kentucky—having the oversight of some twenty evangelists, as a result of whose labors over four thousand communicants have been added to the roll of the Synod!
In 1874, at the age of thirty-eight, Dr. Witherspoon took his seat for the first time in the General Assembly, at Columbus, Mississippi, only about one hundred miles east of where he began his ministerial life; and in 1884, just ten years later, at the age of forty-eight, he was elected Moderator of and presided over the General Assembly at Vicksburg, Mississippi, just two hundred miles southwest of the same beginning point, Oxford, Mississippi. And the same University that graduated him with high honor in 1858, at the age of twenty, conferred upon him in 1867, at the age of thirty-one, the distinguished honor of D.D., and in 1884, at the age of forty-eight, the more distinguished honor of LL.D. Such a succession of honors is almost unparalleled; and the State of Mississippi, while witnessing within her borders this high appreciation by the Presbyterian Church in the South of one of her favorite sons, has borne a beautiful testimony to his great energy, consecrated talent, and noble character.
As a writer in the Church newspapers, Dr. Witherspoon has written frequently, judiciously, and effectively. The following are among the larger and more important publications from his pen, in book form; “The Appeal of the South to its Educated Men” (1866); “Children of the Covenant” (1873); “Materialism in its Relations to Modem Civilization” (1878); and “Letters on Romanism” (1882).
Among the most decided evidences of the high appreciation of Dr. Witherspoon’s practical talents by the Presbyterian Church and people of the South, is the great number of calls he has had to prominent churches, his election to chairs in or the presidency of colleges and universities, and the professorships in theological seminaries that have been offered him. The latest distinction of this kind of which we have heard is his election as president of Davidson College, at Charlotte, North Carolina. This, and all others, he promptly declined; because he felt that the great mission of his life is to preach the Gospel. In the pulpit and on the platform he is emphatically extemporaneous; always trusting to the inspiration of the moment for words to clothe the ideas and emphasize the thoughts he has diligently studied out in his room.
Truth is rooted in nothing less than the truth that God exists.
The following written address was delivered by Dr. Francis Schaeffer at the 10th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America which met in Grand Rapids, Michigan on June 16, 1982. This message continues to be something which needs to be periodically re-read and pondered.
It is a profound privilege to be asked to speak today, as this day we are one church.
It is a day of rejoicing. It must primarily be that. And yet it is also a sober day before the face of our dear Lord—a sober day, for while this is now in one way an accomplished fact, in another way it is only a beginning. Like birth itself—birth is something completed—the human being nine months old emerges into the external world. But then, though this is a completed thing, what then matters is what is done with life. There is a life to be lived.
For us, what matters now, with the rejoicing is the looking to our Lord for the common life which we now have together, to be lived and to be lived well in the light of the infinite-personal God’s existence, in the light of His revelation in the Scripture, in the light of the teaching and the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ, and in the light of the coming complete restoration of all things.
We must realize that our being one will take looking to the Lord for help. There will be problems of coordination which must be worked out with patience, with being servants to each other. This will not happen automatically. It will take conscious thought, prayer, and a realistic love not to let our egotisms spoil that which God has given us. I would just say to you there are going to be months, there are going to be times, that you are consciously going to have to realize that there are things that have be worked out in love, and it is imperative that as these things are worked out that the things of personal egotism and personal preference which is not principle would not spoil that which God has given us.
We have much to help us: The Lord Himself, and our common heritage. There are differences in our heritage between the Northern and the Southern Presbyterian Churches. And there are divergencies in our histories since we have left those churches. But our common heritage is much greater than the differences.
Our common heritage is rooted in the eternal final objective reality, the infinite-personal Creator, the triune God Himself. Our common heritage is rooted in the unity of all those who have believed God from the Fall onward. Our common heritage is rooted in the New Testament Church from Pentecost onward. Our common heritage is rooted in the Reformation when God’s people threw off the encrustations of the medieval church and returned to authority resting in Scripture only, and salvation resting only in Christ’s finished Substitutionary work in history on the cross. All these things are our common heritage which far outshadow the differences. But more, our common heritage is rooted back to Geneva and to Scotland with our Presbyterian forefathers, and then again closer to us in this moment of history. Our common heritage is rooted in that we take seriously the Bible’s command concerning the purity of the visible church. This is our common heritage or we would not exist as individual churches and now as one church. And, thus, when the denominations to which we have belonged passed the point of not return we—with tears but with loyalty to our Lord—practiced truth and we stepped out from the denominations when there was no return in these denominations after we had patiently tried.
We have no illusions that in this fallen world and with our own finiteness and our own individual sin that we will have a perfect church but we stepped out looking to our Lord to help us have a true church. It will not be perfect, but we believe indeed we have a call to a true church—with a proper preaching of the Word, unmixed with liberalism; the proper sharing of the sacraments, being able to guard the table not having people sitting there who deny the great things of the living God, the Scriptures, and the living Christ; and also the proper administration to discipline in both doctrine and life.
Yes, we do have differences of background but the common heritage eminently overshadows the differences.
As we look ahead I would suggest certain things should be in our thoughts as individuals and as a particular church of the Lord Jesus Christ. Forgive me if I stress what I have stressed before in talks, articles and books. However, we will not know who we are or what lies ahead as a privilege and a duty unless we remember our Presbyterian recent past history. As we cannot understand our young people and the culture which surrounds us unless we understand the 60’s, so we cannot understand the present religious climate in the United States unless we understand the 1930’s. Prior to the 1930’s the Bible believing Christians had stood together as liberalism came in to steal the churches. Then at different speeds the liberals achieved their theft of the various denominations with their power centers of the seminaries and their bureaucracies. At that point and onward the true Christians instead of standing together as had been the case previously divided into two groups: Those who held to a principle of the purity of the visible church; and those who accepted and acted upon the concept of a pluralistic church. There’s a line just like that. It’s a line that began back there in the 30’s, has continued and marks the religious life of the United States excruciatingly in our own day—those who hold to the principle of the purity of the visible church and those who accept the concept of the pluralistic church.
As you know, I have stressed over and over again the weakness of what became known as “the separated movement.” It is good to remind ourselves again what God’s calling to us is once we have become Christians. Our calling once we have become Christians is to exhibit the existence of God and to exhibit His character, individually and collectively. God is holy and God is love, and our calling is simultaneously to show forth holiness and love in every aspect of life—parent and child, husband and wife, church, state, everything else—an exhibition of the character of God showing forth his holiness and his love simultaneously. In the flesh rather than the work of the Spirit, it is easy to say we are showing holiness and it only be egotistic pride and hardness. Equally in the flesh rather than the work of the Spirit it is easy to say we are showing forth love and it only be egotistic compromise, latitudinarianism and accommodation. Both are equally easy in the flesh. Both are equally egotistic. To show forth both simultaneously, in personal matters, church and public life can only be done in any real degree by our consciously bowing, denying our egotistic selves and letting Christ bring forth His fruit through us—not merely as a “religious” statement, but with some ongoing reality. When we leave to begin a new denomination for Christ’s sake it is so easy to be proud, to be hard toward true brothers in Christ who differ with us, to those who hold to the Bible’s principles but nevertheless do not think the time is right. It is easy to be self-righteous and to self-righteously think that we are so right on this one point that anything else may be excused—very easy, a very easy thing to fall into. These mistakes were indeed made, and we have suffered from this and the cause of Christ has suffered from this through these now 50 years. By God’s grace as we begin together, let us consciously look to our Lord for His help not to give Satan the victory by making this tragic error.
But equally, let us not allow any place for confusing Christian love with compromise, latitudinarianism and accommodation! The spirit of our age is syncretism in all the areas of life, in all the areas of thought. The spirit of our age is syncretism, and thus accommodation is the rule. The spirit of our age is the age of syncretism in contrast in truth versus error; and this being so, accommodation is the common mentality.
Those in the churches who said they were practicing love but who confused this with compromise and accommodation have not been static in their error. Compromise is never static. It always progresses. Thus what began as ecclesiastical compromise has become the acceptance of a series of tragedies, a series of things which deny truth as truth. A series of tragedies which rest in the loss of the realization that truth as truth demands differen-tiation. Accomodation progresses and it is increasingly forgotten that truth, if it is really truth and not just subjective truth inside of our own head, demands confrontation, loving confrontation, but confrontation. If I lose the concept of confrontation it must be asked, do I believe that truth is truth. We must remind each other that all must be with true love and that the exhibition of God’s holiness must never be confused with hardness. Yet equally we must realize the responsibility to show forth and practice holiness as we go on together filling a great need in the church of Christ today not just in Presbyterian circles but in the church as a whole, and then in our society and in our culture. We have a great responsibility in our Pres-byterian circles, but it doesn’t stop there. It goes on, our responsibility, our duty, our privilege, as we become one, concerning the whole church of the Lord Jesus Christ, and then out into the society and the culture.
Those who took the path of accommodation have not stopped on the level of one ecclesiastical unit but have had much to do in shaping that which is known as evangelicalism today.
At this point I would like to repeat a part of the talk I gave earlier this year at the Congress on the Bible in San Diego:
When Dr. Koop, Franky and I were in the midst of the seminars of “Whatever Happened to the Human Race,” one of us received a leter from someone in the evangelical ranks. He holds a good theological position in regard to Scripture and I like him. In his letter, however, he said: “I see the emergence of a new sort of fundamentalist legalism. That was the case in the trust conceiving ‘false evangelicals’ in the inerrancy issue and is also the case on the part of some who are now saying that the evangelical cause is betrayed by any who allow exceptions of any sort in government funding in abortion.” Now, speaking of the abortion issue, of course we would have to give some clarification. I know of no Protestant who does not take into consideration the health of the mother. If with tears the doctor cannot save both of his patients, the child and the mother, this is taken into consideration. It is all the other qualifications which are tacked on to the statement, I am against abortion except for this, that, the other thing, and 20 things more. And when we come to that place we have a question to ask, the question is raised if those who do this understand that it is human life as such that is involved in contrast to some individual’s or society’s concept of their own happiness. And when somebody tacks on all these exceptions one must say, do they understand all that truth means in the area of human life and the tremendous issues involved of human life as human life being important because we are made in the image of God in contrast to human life being able to be destroyed for either the individual’s happiness, the mother who thinks it’s for her happiness, or for society’s good. One must ask, do people really understand this, do they understand what truth means when they indeed forget what the real issue is at the level of human life?
I would like to consider the phrase "a new sort of fundamentalist legalism" in regard to all the areas we have been talking about.
If what is involved in the phrase “fundamentalist legalism” is the loveless thing that some of us have known in the past, we of course reject it totally. The love of God and the holiness of God, as I’ve said before, must always be evident simultaneously. And if anyone has wandered off and later they see their mistake and they return, then surely the attitude should be not one of pride on our part that we have been right, but the attitude must be one of joy, and the playing of joyous music, and the singing of songs, and yes I would even say dancing in the streets because there has been a real return.
Again, if the phrase "fundamentalistic legalism" means the down-playing of the humanities as unhappily has so often been the case in certain circles, the failure to know that the intellect, that human creativity by Christians and non-Christians, that the scholarly, that the Lordship of Christ in all of life are all important and are included in true spirituality, then my work of 40 and more years and the books and the films, would speak of my denying it totally.
And if the term “a new legalistic fundamentalism” means the confusion of primary and secondary points of doctrine in life this too should be rejected.
But when we have said all that, when we come to the central things of doctrine including maintaining the Bible’s emphasis that it is without mistake an the central things of life, then something must be profoundly considered. Truth carries with it confrontation, loving confrontation, but confrontation nevertheless. If our reflex action is always accommodation regardless of the centrality of the truth involved, there is something profoundly wrong. As what we may call holiness without love is not God’s kind of holiness, so what we may call love without holiness including when it is necessary confrontation, is not God’s kind of love. God is holy and God is love.
This ends the segment that I have taken from the San Diego talk, and now to pick up and go on: That which has come out of the concept of accomodation has indeed grrown and spread. First ecclesiastical accommodation. Then when the Scriptures were with the existential methodology in the evangelical ranks this mentality meant that leadership was not provided in saying that here was a watershed issue which required a line to be drawn between those who held the historic view of Scripture and the new and weaker view. Now this is not to say that htose who hold and held this view are not often brothers and sisters in Christ nor that we should not have warm loving personal relationships with them, but when one is considering the issue of Scripture at this point we should realize that the name evangelical really must be considered here, and the name evangelical was continued to be accepted and used about seminaries and other institutions as though their unscriptural view of Scripture made no real difference. This is real accommodation.
And when the human life issue came upon us, this same mentality of accommodation meant that no leadership was provided in meeting the issue any more than it had been in the scriptural issue. There was a great silence on this issue until some of God’s people stirred themselves—largely and in many places in spite of the leadership that had the sense of accommodation. They had forgotten that the unique value of human life is unbreakably linked with the fact of the existence of the infinite-personal God.
But I would say, the accommodation does not stop; the whole culture has been squandered and largely lost. Eighty years ago there was a Christian consensus in this country; all the most devastating things that have come have come in the last 40 years. Anybody who here is 55 years of age, all the most devastating things in every area of our culture, whether it be art or music, whether it be law or government, whether it’s the schools, permissiveness and all the rest, all these things have come climactically in our adult lifehood if you’re 55 years of age. But, the mentality of accommodation did not raise the voice, it did not raise the battle, it did not call God’s people to realize that this is a part of the task to speak out into the culture and society against that which was being squandered and lost and largely thrown away. An accommodation mentality ecclesiastically in the earlier years led to a lack of confrontation in our culture, society and in the country. As the great loss occurred in sliding from a Christian consensus to a humanistic one from the 40’s onward more and more things were lost, more and more things were allowed to be robbed, more and more things slid away.
And, let us say with tears, if one has the mentality of accommodation we must realize that it will still continue. A mentality of accommodation provides no basis for confrontation with tears concerning the oppression of Christians by those countries that hold the final reality to be merely material or energy shaped by pure chance. This mentality of accommodation provides no basis for a clear and public stand for our brothers and sisters in Christ who know oppression in such a situation. The mentality of accommodation provides no basis for a cry against tyranny as tyranny—not only tyranny against Christians but tyranny against Man, spelled with a capital “M,” who is made in the image of God. The mentality of accommodation provides no basis for fighting tyranny such as our forefathers fought tyranny, as we know the great and flaming names of the Scottish background and the Reformation who really stood not just against tyranny against Christians but understood that a Christian is called upon to stand against all tyranny. The mentality of accommodation provides no basis against not only internal tyranny in such countries as I’ve described but an expanding tyranny to new parts of Europe and the globe. A mentality of accommodation provides no basis for a strong stand in this situation.
This is not our common heritage. As Presbyterians our heritage is with a Calvin who dared to stand against the Dukes of Savoy regardless of what it cost. Our heritage is with a John Knox who taught us, as I’ve stressed in A Christian Manifesto, a great theology of standing against tyranny. Our heritage is with a Samuel Rutherford who wrote those flaming words, Lex Rex—only the law is king and “king” under any name must never be allowed to arbitrary law. Are you Presbyterians? Have we a Presbyterian body? These men are the men who give us our heritage—Calvin and his position, John Knox and his, Samuel Rutherford his, and no less than these in our own country, a John Witherspoon who understood that tyranny must be met and must be met squarely because tyranny is wrong. These who understood that true love in this fallen world often meant the acceptance of the tears which go with confrontation. None of us like confrontation, or I hope none of us do. But in a fallen world there is confrontation, there is confrontation concerning truth, there must be confrontation against evil and that which is wrong. The love must be there but so must the hard thing of acting upon differentiation, the differentiation God gives between truth and falsehood, between what is just, based on God’s existence and His justice, and injustice.
We are Presbyterian; we are Reformed. But our being together and our responsibility and opportunity does not stop merely with being Presbyterian and Reformed. As one as we now are, we can in some measure speak with the balance of love and holiness to help to provide help for the poor church of the Lord Jesus Christ as a whole in this country; and then beyond into the world to provide help for the church of the Lord Jesus Christ in helping stop this awful slide. This slide in regard to the church, this slide in regard to Scripture, this slide in regard to human life, this slide regarding the oppression of our brothers and sisters in Christ, this slide in regard to tyranny toward others in the world. It is forgotten that a part of the Good News is to take a stand; that is a part of the Good News in a broken, as well as lost, world. The very preaching of the Good News is taking a stand, but it’s forgotten that just as we heard from the former
moderator that there isn’t a dichotomy between the proclamation of the Word and caring for people’s material needs with compassion and love, so also it must be emphasized that there is no dichotomy between preaching the Good News and taking a stand—and in fact, if there is nothing to take a stand upon there is no reason for preaching the Good News.
We are to be Presbyterian and Reformed, but that is not the limiting circle of our responsibility. I would say to you, I plead with you concerning this, we are to be Reformed and Presbyterian but that is not the limiting circle of our responsibility. Our distinctives are not to be the chasm. We hold our distinctives because we are convinced that they are biblical. But God’s call is to love and be one with all those who are in Christ Jesus and then to let God’s truth speak into the whole spectrum of life and the whole spectrum of society. That is our calling. The limiting circle is not to be just that we are Presbyterian and Reformed. We hold these things because we believe indeed they are that which is taught in Scripture. But out beyond that there is the responsibility, there is the call, to be something to the whole church of the Lord Jesus Christ, and out beyond the church of the Lord Jesus Christ to the whole society and to the whole culture. If we don’t understand this we don’t understand either how rich Christianity is and God’s truth is, nor do we understand how wide is the call placed upon the Christian into the totality of life. Jesus could not be said to be Savior unless we also say He is Lord. And we cannot honestly and rightly say He is our Lord if He is only a Lord of part of the life and not of the totality of life including all the social and political and the cultural life.
Our limitation of responsibility is not to be merely, as we being together, within the circle of Presbyterian and Reformed though it is to be this
We begin together. May we ask God’s grace that we may do well in the whole extent of the possibility of our calling. I want to tell you I doubt if many of you realize how great the possibility of your calling is as you sit here today. It is tremendous. There is a tremendous need in our day. We have largely lost our culture. The poor church has not been give a clear direction. You have tremendous opportunity; you have a calling this day; I have a calling this day; we have a calling this day by God’s grace that we may do well in the whole extent of the possibility of our calling.
It is intriguing to me that in the last six months that some important voices in the media and some of those who are pushing for a pluralistic church have been using the designations: “separatist” and “ecumenical,” I’m intrigued because I haven’t heard these terms used like this for a number of years. We do not wish to be separatist in any poor sense and we do not wish to be ecumenical in the bad sense. But whatever terms distinguish the difference, as we begin together because truth is truth, we must be willing ecclesiastically, concerning the Scripture, concerning human life, concerning oppression of our brothers and sisters in Christ, and concerning the spread of tyranny, we must be willing when it is necessary to accept the privilege and the duty of confrontation rather than accommodation. This is the command of Scripture, and it is the example of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Let us be committed to each other, to the commands of the Scripture and to the example of the Lord Jesus Christ of understanding that truth is truth. We are not opposing these things for abstract doctrinal concepts, but what we are talking about is truth. We are talking about truth, and truth is not abstract. Truth is rooted in nothing less than the truth that God exists. This is the truth and that He has revealed Himself in the Scripture and He has sent His son to die for sinners like ourselves. If these things are really truth then it is not a place for synthesis, it is a place for antithesis. With love it is a place for confrontation and not just a mistaken accommodation which lacks a proper exhibition of God’s holiness.
Dr. Schaeffer’s message was later reprinted in the first issue of Equip magazine, a publication of the Christian Education & Publications Committee of the PCA. The message was reproduced on pages 7 – 9 of the April 1995 issue (Vol. 1, No. 1). Reflecting on the article, the editor asked these questions in a sidebar:
What do we mean when we speak of our common heritage and why is it important?
What is the difference between uniformity and unity?
Schaeffer refers to Christian compromise demonstrated by accomodation and latitudinarianism. Give some examples.
What is a Christian consensus and has that ever prevailed in America?
Is our role more limited or more enhanced because of our common Reformed and Presbyterian heritage? In the church? In the world?
Schaeffer talks about our calling. What is our calling as individuals? As a denomination? As members of the universal church?
Discuss some specfic ways in which we can actually do “loving confrontation.”
In February 1549, after an imprisonment of 19 months, Knox obtained his release from the French galleys. Since he probably obtained his freedom due to the intercession of King Edward VI or the English government (they had been negotiating for the release of English and Scottish protestant prisoners in exchange for French prisoners), he came to London, and was favorably received by Archbishop Cranmer and the lords of council. He remained in England for five years, during which time he was first appointed preacher to Berwick, then to Newcastle.
At Berwick, where he labored for two years, he preached with his characteristic fervor and zeal, exposing the errors of Romanism with unsparing severity. Although Protestantism was the official position of the Church of England since the reign of Henry VIII, there were many loyal Roman Catholics (papists), even in the high ranks of the clergy. The bishop of John Knox’s diocese, Dr. Cuthbert Tunstall, was an avid Catholic. Knox was accused of asserting that the sacrifice of the Mass is idolatrous, and was cited to appear before the bishop to give an account of his preaching. On April 4, 1550, Knox entered into a full defense of his opinions, and with the utmost boldness proceeded to argue that the mass is a superstitious and idolatrous substitute for the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. (vol. 3 of History 54,-56). The bishop did not venture to pronounce any ecclesiastical censure.
The fame of the preacher was only extended by this feeble attempt to restrain his boldness. From a manuscript discovered in the 1870’s titled, “The practice of the Lord’s Supper used in Berwick by John Knox, 1550,” we now know that the very beginning of Puritan practice in the Church of England in the administration of the Lord’s Supper is to be found in the practice followed by Knox at Berwick, inasmuch as he substituted common bread for the bread wafers, and gave the first example of substituting sitting instead of kneeling in the receiving of communion.
“It was during this time  that John Knox developed a theology of resistance to tyranny. He began smuggling pamphlets into England. The most significant of these was the Admonition to England. With this move, he had stepped into new territory, going further than any Reformer had previously gone.”–Francis Schaeffer, from A Christian Manifesto
Words to Live By:
We Presbyterians owe much to John Knox and we would profit greatly from taking up a fresh study of his life and writings. 2014 was the 500th anniversary of his birth, and so we had many posts last year on facets of his ministry. In his time, he stood resolutely for the Scriptures and was greatly blessed of God to bring about real change in his nation. Even now God has placed among us those who can and are speaking with bold testimony to the eternal truths of the Gospel. We need not name them. We cannot name them all. But we can all remember to pray for those whom the Lord will use for His glory in these trying times. May the Lord give us strong voices to faithfully declare His Word.
The Lord hear thee in the day of trouble;
the name of the God of Jacob defend thee;
Send thee help from the sanctuary,
and strengthen thee out of Zion;
Remember all thy offerings,
and accept thy burnt sacrifice; Selah.
Grant thee according to thine own heart,
and fulfil all thy counsel.
We will rejoice in thy salvation,
and in the name of our God we will set up our banners:
the Lord fulfil all thy petitions.
Now know I that the Lord saveth his anointed;
he will hear him from his holy heaven
with the saving strength of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots, and some in horses:
but we will remember the name of the Lord our God.
They are brought down and fallen:
but we are risen, and stand upright.
let the king hear us when we call.
He Saw God in His Power
In the passage that follows, the Rev. Stuart Robinson [1814-1881] briefly discusses a letter composed under the hand of John Knox on the date of January 12, 1559. In this letter, Knox sketched out the core principles, as he would see them, of the reformation of the Church—a summary of all that he hoped to accomplish and as Robinson puts it, “the key to all his subsequent conflicts in Scotland.” Our passage today is drawn from Robinson’s article, “John Knox as the English and the Scottish Reformer,” which appeared in THE SOUTHERN PRESBYTERIAN REVIEW, 27.1 (January 1877): 11-12 of 26. [The spelling in Knox’s letter has been modernized somewhat.]
In his letter of exhortation to England, January 12, 1559, Knox developes the germinal principles of his scheme of Reformation. After declaring that Popish priests should not be allowed to direct the flock, that a plurality of benefices to one man should not be permitted, but the pastoral charges be given each to a single minister who shall be required to discharge fully the office of preaching Christ crucified, he proceeds to say—
“Let none that be appointed to labour in Christ’s vineyard be entangled with civil affairs, and as ye call them the affairs of the realm. . . . For, as touching their yearly coming to Parliament for matters of religion, it shall be superfluous and vain, if God’s true religion be once so established, that after it never be called in controversy. . . . So that the ministers, albeit they lack the glorious title of lords, and the devilish pomp which before appeared in proud prelates yet must they be so stout and bold, in God’s cause, that if the king himself would usurpe any other authority in God’s religion than becometh a member of Christ’s body, that first he be admonished according to God’s Word, and after, if he contemn the same, be subject to the yoke of discipline. . . . Now last, for the preservatioun of religion, it is most expedient that schools be universally erected in cities and all chief towns, the oversight whereof to be committed to the magistrates and godly learned men, that of the youth, godly instructed among them, a seed may be reserved and continued, for the profit of Christ’s kirk in all ages.”—[*McCrie’s Life of Melville, Vol. I., p. 213.]
Here, then, we have the germinal ideas of Knox’s programme of reformation, which will be found to be the key to all his subsequent conflicts in Scotland—an unsecularised ministry of one order only preaching Christ crucified, a spiritual free Church under Christ as its only Head, and education for not only the masses of the people, but education of the higher order, to secure an intelligent ministry. This last, if anything could be called such, may be termed “John Knox’s hobby.” And to his brave struggles and labors in that behalf, under God, has Scotland been indebted for the singular intelligence and intellectual superiority both of her people and her ministry for three hundred years past.
Words to Live By:
Our Lord Jesus Christ has promised that He will build His Church. (Matt. 16:18). When we see the Church in decline or even seemingly in ruins, the time for urgent prayer has long been at hand, for “unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.” (Psalm 127:1, ESV). Our part is to pray and watch. Pray unceasingly, and watch expectantly, for we have His sure promise.
And from my favorite Anglican pastor, Richard Sibbes, this passage seems most appropriate in application of the life of John Knox:
” ‘Though an host encamp against me, my heart shall not fear.’ He puts the case of the greatest danger that can be. Though an host of men should encompass me, ‘my heart shall not fear; though war rise against me, in this I will be confident.’ Here is great courage for the time to come. Experience breeds hope and confidence. David was not so courageous a man of himself; but upon experience of God’s former comfort and assistance, his faith brake as fire out of the smoke, or as the sun out of a cloud. Though I was in such and such perplexities, yet for the time to come I have such confidence and experience of God’s goodness, that I will not fear. He that seeth God by a spirit of faith in his greatness and power, he sees all other things below as nothing. Therefore he saith here, he cares not for the time to come for any opposition; no, not of an army. ‘If God be with us, who can be against us?’ Rom. viii. 31. He saw God in his power; and then, looking from God to the creature, alas! who was he? As Micah, when he had seen God sitting upon his throne; what was Ahab to him, when he had seen God once? So when the prophet David had seen God once, then ‘though an host encamp against me, I will not fear,’ &c. Thus you have his comfort in the double branch of it; his courage, also, and his confidence for the time to come.
–“A Breathing After God,” The Works of Richard Sibbes, (Banner of Truth, 1983), vol. 2, page 214.
The following brief account concerns the small controversy over the ecclesiastical views of Jonathan Edwards. There is a separate account, to the same conclusion, originally told by Dr. Archibald Alexander and then related by the Rev. R. J. Breckinridge on the pages of the Philadelphia magazine, The Presbyterian. [perhaps I can retrieve that article soon]. But […]
Dr. David Calhoun just a few years ago published a volume on the life and ministry of the Rev. Dr. William Childs Robinson, the Columbia Seminary professor who was such a powerful influence in the lives of many of the founding fathers of the PCA. [Pleading for a Reformation Vision. Banner of Truth, 2013]. Let’s let […]
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It was yesterday actually—September 17th, 1936—and not today’s date of September 18th, when Dr. J. Gresham Machen spoke in Westfield, New Jersey on the subject “Shall We Obey God, or Man?”. But as we didn’t want to pass up mention of this occasion, so you will please forgive a bit of backtracking. This appears to be one […]
A Potential Schism Halted by a Compromise Initially there was no real problem with the written standards for the Presbyterian Church in America. Ministerial students were simply tested for their learning and soundness in the faith. But a controversy in the mother country soon changed this. So the question arose, should teaching and ruling elders be […]
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This is the concluding article in the series PRESBYTERIANS IN AMERICA. The author, Rev. Prof. Paul Woolley, was formerly the professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. I do hope you have found Rev. Woolley’s articles both interesting and instructive, and I do trust that our readers are more familiar now than […]
Dr. Paul Woolley’s series of articles on Presbyterians in America continues today with a segment on churches of Covenanter ancestry. Please keep in mind that these articles were written in the early 1950s and so much has changed since that time. VI – The Churches of Covenanter Ancestry [Reformed Presbyterian Advocate, 86.3 (March 1952): 25-26] […]
On August 27th, 1820, the Rev. Sylvester Larned appeared for the last time before the congregation of the First Presbyterian Church of New Orleans. He had remained in the city during the summer’s “sickly season.” Death from fever was everywhere, and Rev. Larned has spent those weeks and months ministering to the city’s poor who […]
Dr. Woolley’s series of articles on Presbyterians in America continues today with a focus on the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the Bible Presbyterian Church. Our Monday and Tuesday posts will conclude this series. Do keep in mind that these articles were written in the early 1950s and so much has changed since that time. V […]