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A Plea for Ministers and Money

Most of us can remember Paul’s vision which he experienced on his second missionary journey of a man who called out to the apostle, saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” (NIV – Acts 16:9)   Well, we don’t have any record of any visionary request for help, but early Presbyterians in this blessed land did correspond with Presbyterians in the mother country just two years after the organization of the Presbytery of Philadelphia in 1707.  There is a letter written on May 11, 1709 to Presbyterians in London, England from the Presbyterian ministers in the Philadelphia Presbytery appealing for more men and money to help the infant Presbyterian Church get off the ground.  Listen to the pathos in their words:

“Unto whom can we apply ourselves more fitly than unto our fathers, who have been extolled in the reformed churches for their large bounty and benevolence in their necessities!  We doubt not, but if the sum of about two hundred pounds per annum, were raised for the encouragement of ministers in these parts, it would enable ministers and people to erect eight congregations, and ourselves put in better circumstances than hitherto we have been.  We are at present seven ministers, most of whose outward affairs are so straightened as to crave relief, unto which, if two or three more were added, it would greatly strengthen our interest, which does miserably suffer, as things are at present are among us.

“Sir, if we shall be supplied with ministers from you, which we earnestly desire; with your benevolence to the value above, you may be assured of our fidelity and Christian care in distributing it to the best ends and purposes we can, so as we hope we shall be able to give a just and fair account for every part of it to yourself and others, by our letters to you.

“That our evangelical affairs may be the better managed, we have formed ourselves into a Presbytery, annually convened.  It is a sore distress and trouble unto us, that we are not able to comply with the desires of sundry places, crying unto us for ministers.  Therefore we earnestly beseech you to intercede with the ministers of London, to extend their charity to us, otherwise many people will remain in a perishing condition as to spiritual things.”

It is obvious that the seven ministers of the Presbytery of Philadelphia certainly saw that the fields of America were ripe unto harvest.  They also sadly realized that the laborers were few so as to reap that spiritual harvest.  And so they, in a spirit of prayer, asked for both ministers and money to take advantage of the opportunities for a wide and effective service in the American colonies.

It would be at a later date in the history of the American church, indeed several decades from this date,  that the question of where you were trained educationally became an issue in the visible church.  But at this early date in American Presbyterian history, they were at a critical crossroads, as the letter above proves.  They needed more pastors and more money to support those who were present in ministering to the masses.

Words to Live By: Such a prayer and plea as this is never outdated, even in current America.  We might add the adjective “faithful” before the men who are needed in our conservative Presbyterian and Reformed church bodies, but the need is the same.  Will you be a prayer warrior before our Sovereign God and heavenly Father for Him to thrust out faithful  laborers into the harvest fields?

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Written by Smectymnuus

Smectymnuus! What? Who? What rational parent would give his kid this confusing name? Yet it wasn’t a birth name. It was rather the nom de plume framed by the initials of five authors to a book against episcopacy in seventeenth century England. To be exact, this was 1641 and the book itself had a title which may well be one of the longest titles in existence, ever!  It was “An Answer to a Book entitled, An Humble Remonstrance in which, the original of Liturgy and Episcopacy is discussed: and Queries proposed concerned both. The Parity of Bishops and Presbyters in Scripture demonstrated.  The Occasion of their Imparity in Antiquity discovered. The Disparity of the Ancient and our modern Bishops manifested. The Antiquity of Ruling Elders in the Church vindicated. The Prelatical church bounded.” It would seem to this writer that the outline of the book was put into the title thereof!  Oh yes, and it written by Smectymnuus or S(tephen) M(arshall), E(dmund) C(alamy), T(homas) Y(young), M(atthew) N(ewcommen), and W(illiam–rendered as “UU“) S(purstow).

calamy_edwardOur attention  today in Presbyterian History is on the “E” and the “C” of the title, or on Edmund Calamy, known as Calamy the Elder. Born in London, England, in February 1600, day unknown, he was educated at Pembroke Hall, Cambridge. England.  He pastored and lectured at three Anglican churches from 1626 to 1639 when he was chosen to serve as the pastor of the London church of St.Mary Aaldermanbury.  In most of these parishes, he conformed to some of the ceremonies of the Anglican tradition, like bowing when the name of Jesus was mentioned, but resisting other practices of the Anglican liturgy.  Indeed, he was a Presbyterian delegate at the Savoy Conferences between April and July in 1661, attempting to find some compromise in the liturgy of the Anglican Church.  He, along with the other authors of the above title, were members of the Westminster Assembly of Divines from 1643 onward.  With the passing of the  Uniformity Act of King Charles II, the Rev. Edward Calamy was one of 2400 Presbyterians and Puritans who were ejected from his pulpit.   He preached his farewell sermon to his congregation at St. Mary’s on August 17, 1662.

Calamy continued to worship at the services of his old church. Once the appointed preacher did not attend the worship service, he was prevailed upon by his old congregation, and so took the pulpit and preached “with some warmth,” it was reported. Arrested for disobeying the Uniformity act, he was imprisoned for a time on January 6, 1663. He was freed later by the king and closed out his public ministry.

He survived to witness the terrible fire of London in 1666, which catastrophe contributed to his death when he saw his last congregation in ruins from the fire. He died on this day, October 29, 1666, and was buried in the ruins of the church as close as his mourners could guess was the place of the pulpit.

Words to Live By:
Where there had been earlier compromises of Presbyterian principles in his early life and ministry, he ended well with a firm commitment to Presbyterian principles and practice. Let that be our resolve as Christians, that we will end well in commitment to Biblical principles and practices. As Scottish pastor John Livingstone put it: “Let God be your only rule; Christ your own hope; The Holy Spirit your only guide, the Glory of God your only end.” 

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He Went About Doing Good

Thomas Gouge is not a household name to countless American Presbyterians today, but maybe he should be, considering his ministering of good to all. Born September 19, 1605 (and some say September 29, 1609) in England, he was the oldest son of celebrated William Gouge, member of the Westminster Assembly which produced our Confession and Catechisms.

Educated in the finest institutions of his day (Cambridge), Thomas graduated in 1626. After a time of three years, and marrying the daughter of a prominent family of that day, Thomas was called to the St. Sepulchre’s Church in London, England, where for the next twenty-four years he preached and pastored the membership and surrounding area. Not only did he minister to their spiritual needs, but also to their material needs.

Catechizing the people every morning of the week, Thomas Gouge would distribute gifts among the aged poor on varying days of the week so as to encourage regular attendance upon his catechism studies. These monies came out of his own pocket. To those abled-bodied among the poverty-stricken members, he distributed flax and hemp for them to spin, paying them for their yarn to be worked into cloth. Often in selling them later, he took the financial loss himself.

All of these benevolent work, including his proclamation of the Word of God, came to an end when the Great Ejection of 1662 took place. Hundreds of Presbyterian clergy were ejected from their Anglican pulpits, including Thomas Gouge. Unlike many others, he simply entered another ministry instead of continuing on to minister in secret to  his pastor-less flock. With two or three other ministers, he raised a considerable annual sum of money, to make provision for the ejected ministers then in desperate need. Even when the Great Fire of 1666 devastated London and brought a considerable loss to his income, he still continued to live on less and distribute to those in real need. He believed full the promise of the Psalmist when the latter wrote in Psalm 37:26, “He is ever merciful and lendeth; and his seed is blessed.” (KJV)

Looking to minister in ever widening circles, he had a heart for Wales.  Traveling there, he went from town to town to find out whether there would be interest in teaching willing children to read and write in the English language, and—oh yes—be catechized, no doubt using the Shorter Catechism of the Westminster Assembly.  Great droves of children came under the influence of the Scriptures, along with their families. Rev. Gouge began to preach regularly to the families, until the prelates of the Anglican church forbid him to preach the Word.  So in addition to the catechism classes, he arranged for the Word of God to be translated and printed into Welsh to be given freely to  Welsh families.  Added to the Scriptures were Christian books in Welsh which he freely handed out.

He entered heaven on October 29, 1681, remembered widely for his character and conduct in times of persecution.

Words to Live By:
And let us not be weary in well doing, for in due season, we shall reap if we faint not.  As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good to all men, especially unto those who are of the household of faith.”  Galatians 6;9, 10 (KJV)

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Westminster Confession Approved by Church of Scotland

You may ask upon reading the title of this contribution, why are we thinking about adoption of the Westminster Confession of Faith, when the whole This Day in Presbyterian History blog deals with Presbyterian history in the United States?  And that is a fair question.  But it is quickly answered by two considerations. First, this Reformed standard—The Westminster Confession of Faith—was, with few changes, the subordinate standard of all the Presbyterian denominations in the United States.  And second, the Scots-Irish immigrants who came over to this country in its earliest days held strongly to this Reformed creedal statement.

The Westminster Confession of Faith was formulated by the Westminster Assembly of divines (i.e, pastors and theologians) in the mid-seventeenth century, meeting at Westminster Abby in London, England.  To the one hundred and twenty divines, primarily from the Church of England, were added nine Scottish divines from the Church of Scotland.  While the latter were seated as non-voting members of that Assembly, still their presence was felt in very effective ways during the six-year study that produced this confessional standard.

When it was adopted by the Parliament in England, it then went to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, where it was adopted without amendment on August 29, 1647.  It then became the summary of the teachings of the Old and New Testaments which was “owned” by the officers of the Church—the teaching and ruling elders, as well as the diaconate—in every local congregation. Down through the centuries, some changes in the Confession were made, most notably in 1789, but these have not affected the overall doctrinal content of the Confession. The majority of those changes were made in 1789. You can ask your pastor for more information about those changes.

The historic importance of this document remains relevant to this day as a focal point of our unity as Presbyterians, and so we seek to make our friends more knowledgeable of its magnificent statements.

Words to live by: Most of the Presbyterian denominations do not require their lay members to take vows which speak of their adoption of these historical creedal standards in order to join the church.  Yet a careful study of, and acceptance of this Confession of Westminster will give you a solid foundation for understanding the doctrine and life of the Word of God.  We urge you to do so, perhaps asking for a class in your church on it, or just studying it yourself for your personal and family benefit.

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A True Portrait of the Man

Mention the name of John Knox, and what comes to your mind?  Founder of Presbyterianism, the land of Scotland, Protestant Reformer, author, rigid leader, ever ready to prove his preaching orthodox by “apostolic blows and knocks”? Such is the picture which we have of this sixteenth century individual.

We always could expect negative views of him from his enemies in those centuries in assailing the character of this leader. They didn’t want his brand of Reformation truths and practices to become the norm in the Kingdom of Scotland. But often his friends in both those  years and today have felt that they must apologize for his fierce statements and actions, where and when no apology was needed. Of course, what doesn’t help is the familiar picture of John Knox, so familiar in all our minds, where his expression and especially his beard makes the present day characters of Duck Dynasty tame by comparison. And then there was that sermon written overseas entitled “First Draft of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regimen of Women,” which diatribe was against the female rulers of England. All this causes us to be thankful for the result of the establishment of Presbyterianism in Scotland, and our country, but sometimes apologetic about the instrument used to bring it about.

Yet all these negatives were challenged by the discovery of four unpublished papers of John Knox in a collegiate library in London near the close of the nineteenth century. These papers were not originals to be sure, but transcripts from the originals written in the sixteenth century. And from them, we get a true portrait of the character of John Knox.

In addition, they reveal a little more of his ministry spent—are you ready for this?—in England. In fact, half of his ministry was spent either in England, or among English exiles in Germany and Geneva. Further, today in April 7, 1549, we remember his license being issued as a priest of the Church of England.

John Knox himself in his great work, The History of the Reformation in Scotland, describes his time in the Church of England with a very succinct paragraph on page 98. He said, “The said John Knox was first appointed Preacher to Berwick; then to Newcastle; last he was called to London and to the south parts of England, where  he remained to the death of King Edward the Sixth.” His whole five years of ministry was reduced to thirty-seven words.

The footnote under that quotation reads on the same page, “In this modest sentence John Knox disposes of his English residence of five years, making no reference to his appointment as a Royal Chaplain to Edward the Sixth, before whom he frequently preached at Windsor, Hampton Court, St. James’s and Westminster, nor to the share he took in preparation of the Book of Common Prayer and the Articles to the Church of England, nor to his declination first of the Bishopric of Rochester, and afterward of the vicarage of All Hallows in London. His appointment as preacher to Berwick and Newcastle was made by the Privy Council of England.”

As the English Reformer, the papers referenced above reveal the true character of Knox as exhibiting “a combination of tenderness with strength, of playful humor with the profoundest seriousness, of all genial sympathies with fervor of devotional and burning zeal for truth.”  (p. 443)  Knox is shown as a guide of souls in trouble, with remarkable wisdom and moderation. To be sure, John Knox did not compromise his divine calling as a pastor in the Church of England. He stood fast by his conviction that Scripture alone must command his actions as a servant of God.

Suffice to say, while this author rejoices in the Scottish Reformation, with no little gratitude that his ancestors were members of the Church of Scotland on his mother’s side, we must also rejoice in the influence that John Knox had on the English Reformation, where, preaching from the Word of God, he proclaimed the unsearchable riches of God’s grace, while defending the historic Christian faith from those who would seek to destroy it.

Then too, in cooperation with those Reformed members of the Church of England, Knox was a powerful influence in framing the Book of Common Prayer and the English Articles  of Religion. It was only with the death of Edward the Sixth that Mary Tudor came to the throne with the intention of restoring Romanism to the realm, which in turn forced Knox to flee to the Continent with countless other Protestants.

Words to Live By: And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness, God may perhaps grant them repentance, leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” — 2 Timothy 2:24 – 26, ESV.

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