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“To God’s Glory” : A Practical Study of a Doctrine of the Westminster Standards.
by Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn.

THE SUBJECT : Respect for Authority.

THE BIBLE VERSES TO READ : There are too many to list. We recommend you study the verses given in the Larger Catechism, Questions 123-133.

REFERENCES TO THE STANDARDS : Confession of Faith, XIX.6 & 7; Larger Catechism, Q. 123-133; Shorter Catechism, Q. 63-66.

Not long ago a person said to me, “As long as you think a law or a rule is wrong, it is alright to disobey it.” The person was serious. This is the reasoning used today by many people. This is the reasoning that is propagated by so much of the media today. This is the reasoning so many of our young people are taught today.

Whether you are thinking of the relationship of the citizen toward the state, or the worker toward his boss, or children toward their superiors, or the congregation toward the man called of God to preach His Word, you will discover that lack of respect for authority is the prevalent approach of today.

This dangerous philosophy has even reached into churches that call themselves evangelical. There seems to be a popular tendency to ignore many times the Word of God. Too many feel they have a perfect right to make their own rules. The Fifth Commandment speaks very clearly to any person following this false philosophy.

The Almighty, Sovereign God knew that respect for authority was very important. He knew that if a family, a nation, an economy, a church was to carry out its duties in this world there must be some clearly laid down rules. Therefore, He emphasized proper respect for authority in His Word time and time again.

Our Lord told us in His Word, “Obey them that have rule over you.” This thought is presented time and time again in the Bible. He knew that a lawless society would soon become a mob and a mob becomes a group of people out of hand, a law unto themselves.

What has caused the loss of respect for authority? What has caused this new philosophy to become such an important part of the thinking of many? Such questions could not be answered fully in the short space available, but a suggestion can be offered as to what is happening in many churches in this regard.

First, there is the move away from the authoritative preaching of the authoritative Word. The widely evangelical view of subjectivism is rapidly replacing Objective Revelation (God’s Word) in many churches. The emphasis today in so many churches is that of more involvement, more dialogue and less monologue. What is being bypassed is that faith does not just “happen” but it comes through the means of grace. Too many are forgetting Shorter Catechism Question 88 and its definition of the means of grace : “The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption are His ordinances, especially the Word, Sacraments and prayer…” The need of the people to hear the authoritative Word any time it is proclaimed is great and dare not be bypassed. This is a basic reason for the lack of authority in other areas.

Second, there is the philosophy used by many professing believers that motivates them to move away from any position of unpopularity before others. It is difficult to be popular today and insist upon rightful authority as parents, or teachers, or elders, or whatever their authority might be, decide to close their eyes to certain portions of Scripture in order to keep their popularity. They forget that to break a principle of Scripture is to court disaster as a person and for whatever the cause in which the person is involved.

There is a principle of Scripture involved here that all professing believers need to be reminded of as they seek to walk before the Lord. The Bible states, “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” (II Tim. 3:12). Certainly believers are not to court persecution but neither are they to expect otherwise if they are walking before the Lord as they should. And sometimes walking before the Lord involves having authority over others and making use of that authority in love.

Third, respect for authority will only come when respect is due. This means that those in authority, whether it be civil, home, school, or church, must command respect because of their walk with the Lord. The example set by those in authority must be Biblical in all ways.

How many times have those under authority seen inconsistencies? Broken promises, lack of separation from the world, unconcern for the church and Bible study, neglect of loving concern for fellow-believers, are just some of the things that could be mentioned as inconsistencies with God’s Word.

If respect for authority is going to return as an integral part of churches who are committed to the Reformed Faith, then those in authority must read again and obey those commands listed in the Larger Catechism, Questions 129 and 130. This is where the change must begin. Respect for authority will be much easier if those in authority live in a way that will command respect. Take heed, civil servants, parents, teachers, elders!

So ends Rev. Van Horn’s study. To approach the issue from a different angle, we might turn to the Diary of the Rev. Jacob Jones Laneway and his entry for this day, January 22, 1801. The sovereignty of God and His rule over all creation is the ground and basis of all authority. For “He changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings: he giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding.” (Dan. 2:21, KJV).

Here Rev. Janeway reflects on how the sovereignty of God should affect our lives as Christians :

“I seem to take pleasure in the sovereignty of God. Surely it is right, He should reign. My soul rejoices in his unlimited and uncontrollable dominion. The last week, it was my desire, and my endeavour, to commit my all into the hands of God; to give my time, talents, reputation, yea, and life also, to him, that he might dispose of them according to his sovereign pleasure. I see that this is necessary to enable me to discharge my duties impartially, boldly, and faithfully. Once I thought something of myself, as to the ministry, but now I see that I am nothing. Lord, who is sufficient for this great work? Men would have me preach smooth things. But, I trust, I dare not thus endanger their souls, and my own soul. Let me never seek popularity at the expense of duty. Let me never preach myself, but Jesus Christ, the Lord and Saviour. Teach me, oh God, how to proclaim thy truth. Make me to feel its solemn power. Oh! for compassion to the souls of men, and zeal for thy glory. How long, oh Lord, shall I pray for these.”

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You Have This Day Promised to Starve.

Yesterday’s post relied in large part on an account found in a classic work on the history of Presbyterianism in South Carolina, written by Dr. George Howe. Lingering a bit longer on the pages of that classic, we find this story of the ministry of the Rev. David Humphreys, who died on this day, September 29th, in 1869.

Howe’s account reads in part:

The Rev. David Humphreys visited the Roberts Church for the first time in the latter part of the year 1820. A regular call was given him by the churches of Roberts and Good Hope in the spring of 1821, in which $300 was promised him for three-fourths of his time; he signified his acceptance of the call, and during the meeting of Presbytery one of the ministers who was receiving a better salary than was promised to the younger brother, jocosely remarked to him, “Well David you have this day solemnly promised to starve.”

He was ordained and installed pastor in the same year, at Good Hope, by an adjourned meeting of Presbytery. It was considered a very great effort on the part of these feeble churches, which for years had only received preaching once a month and for which they had paid a very small amount to undertake to support a pastor. The subscription list at Roberts for the Rev. John Simpson was still preserved and it was not likely to be much improved on. Five dollars was the highest subscription and from that amount others came down to fifty and even twelve-and-a-half cents, while some subscribed a bushel of wheat or corn, or a gallon of whiskey. Both congregations were much reduced by emigrants who had left to seek homes in some other section of our wide country, and especially was this the case with Good Hope.

When Rev. Humphreys first took charge of these churches there were, perhaps, in each some twenty or thirty families and thirty or forty members. He had a young family and no resources. He purchased a small farm with the hope that he could make a support upon it, while his small salary would go to pay for it, but to his great mortification, the salary was irregularly and but partially paid, and he was reduced to the necessity of borrowing money at fourteen per cent interest to pay for his lands, and in order to pay the borrowed funds, he was driven to the necessity of teaching school, which he said was a “herculean task for him, as all his sermons had to be written out in full and committed to memory.” He kept up this practice of committing to memory for nearly twenty years, when he gradually adopted the habit of using short notes or preaching extempore.

He taught school with some intervals, for several years and never contracted a debt without some good prospect of paying it. He had but a small library which needed a few additional volumes year by year, and a rising family, which increased his expenses. It was then a rare thing for a present of any kind to be made to the pastor. If any article of food or clothing was obtained from any of the church members, the amount was deducted from the subscription, and if it exceeded the subscription, the balance was paid back or credited to the next year. There were no deacons in these churches and no systematic plan adopted for the collection of the small amount subscribed. Some paid a part in provisions and the balance remained unpaid; others paid if they happened to think of it, while the amount promised by those who removed from the bounds was never made up. The consequence was in a few years that they were in arrears to the amount of about $1000. Thus writes the Rev. John McLees, himself reared in the midst of these congregations. It is a sad story of violated vows, of broken promises, of the life of the ministry crushed out by a narrowness of spirit and a want of commercial integrity which one could not expect in that region of country whose people have prided themselves on generosity and nobleness of spirit. The story is written not by an enemy but by a friend, not by a stranger to this people, but by one of themselves, and one who wishes them well.

Words To Live By:
Such were the times in that day and era when answering a call to enter the Gospel ministry was a thing to seriously consider before stepping forward. It could indeed mean a life of poverty. It was wrong that vows should be violated and promises broken, but men truly called to the ministry will always rise to meet the challenges they face.

Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labour in the Word and doctrine. For the Scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward.”—I Timothy 5:17-18, KJV.

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A reflection worth reconsidering, time and again.

Making God’s Name Holy —

We begin on this day of December 14, by considering our Confessional Fathers  explanation of the familiar petitions of that which is commonly called the Lord’s Prayer. Question? Do you really understand Christian, what you are saying when you utter the Lord’s Prayer during your worship service or during a private moment?

Shorter Catechism answer 101 teaches us that “in the first petition, which is, Hallowed by thy name, we pray that God would enable us, and others, to glorify Him in all that whereby he makes himself known, and that he would dispose all  things to his own glory.”

After drawing near to God with all holy reverence and confidence, as children to a father, indeed as the children of God to our heavenly Father, believing that He is able and ready to help us, we begin with this upward direction of adoration. Hallowed be Your name, we pray.

The word “hallowed” is the same root as “holy,” or “sanctify.”  Set Your Name apart in our hearts, heavenly Father. Enable us to glorify You in creation, in providence, and in redemption. In everything whereby You make Yourself known, may we daily give you all praise and glory. “Give unto the Lord the glory due unto His name; worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness” (KJV)—so the Psalmist commands in Psalm 96:89. Remember, from that magnificent first catechism answer, this is our chief and main duty in life, to “glorify God.”

Then since He is in control of all things, and nothing occurs outside His powerful sovereignty, we pray that He will by His upholding, directing, and governing all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, dispose everything to His own glory.

Words to live by:  Make it a challenging spiritual exercise to cause the Name of God to be set apart in all that you do in life. Indeed, make it a challenging discovery to find  how God has set apart His own name in His divine actions on this earth. Either spiritual exercise will add to your spiritual growth. Seek to magnify the name of God in a world which doesn’t care to even acknowledge His existence, and watch to see how God will bring opportunities for witness to your unsaved family and friends. Let us set the Lord always before us. Hallowed be Thy Name.

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Good Words on an Anniversary Occasion

The PCA Historical Center actively collects, funds permitting, published histories of Presbyterian churches. There is a great deal of history too often overlooked in these volumes. In particular, good and encouraging words are often to be found on the opening pages of these histories.

It was on this day, November 10th, in 1895, that the Rev. David O. Irving brought an historical discourse in observance of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Bethel Presbyterian Church of East Orange, New Jersey. His opening words in this discourse are a good example of the value of this otherwise overlooked literature:

Anniversary occasions should be times of great joy. Songs of praise and gratitude should be heard as we celebrate our religious birthdays. Although the sorrowful is mingled with the joyful, as we regret out mistakes and mourn over the beloved fellow-workers now gone to their reward, yet we can rejoice in the Lord as we meditate upon His loving kindness and tender mercies toward our Church. This retrospect should also strengthen our trust in God as we trace His leadings and blessings, for we become more assured that He who has guided us in the past will not neglect us in the coming days. Our history can also be read for encouragement and inspiration, as we trace the humble beginnings of religious work in this community up to our present attainments. Our eyes are so often turned to the future that we sometimes forget that much can be learned from the past. Every church ought to have its history clearly and fully written so that every member may make no mistake by overlooking certain well defined facts which enter into the individual character of that particular church. As we, therefore, glance over the past and trace God’s goodness in our Church’s growth, may this view increase our trust in God, our regard for each other and our zeal for the future.

But let us turn the pages of our history with a sense of humility rather than of self-glory. We are not to bring before us figures and comparisons to feed our pride and conceit, for our progress has been owing to Divine grace and goodness, and not wholly dependent upon our faithfulness and zeal. God often uses the weak things of this world to confound the mighty, so that there is no need of boasting. As we become somewhat encouraged over the retrospect and prospect, let us remember our own mistakes and neglects. If we, as members of this Church, had been more faithful, liberal, devout and earnest, would we not have accomplished greater results than we now behold? But we cannot alter the past. We can only read the facts as history–“time’s slavish scribe”—records them, and allow them to make their own impressions upon us.

Words to Live By:
“There are multitudes who go in and out, who count the Church as theirs, who gather from her thought, knowledge, the comfort of good company, the sense of safety; and then there are others who think they truly, as the light phrase so deeply means, ‘belong to the Church.’ They are given to it, and no compulsion could separate them from it. They are part of its structure. They are its pillars. Here and hereafter they can never go out of it. Life would mean nothing to them outside the Church of Christ.”
Rev. Phillips Brooks, D.D.

For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.”
Psalm 84:10-11, ESV.

Ye are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord.”
Ephesians 2:20-21, KJV

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