Lord Day

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We take a largely ecumenical approach here at This Day in Presbyterian History. Though this blog is sponsored by the PCA Historical Center, we do not write exclusively about the PCA and its people. But it is a small world, and even in the history that follows, though this particular church has never been a part of the PCA, there are connections nonetheless. In this example, three of the pastors of the Union Presbyterian Church were also pastors of churches which later became part of the PCA:

Angus McCallum, pastor of Union Church, 1831-38, was the founding pastor of DeKalb Presbyterian Church (PCA), DeKalb, MS, 1846 and 1848-50.

Martin McQueen, pastor of Union Church, 1864-1888, was also pastor of Mt. Carmel Presbyterian Church (organized in 1776 and now PCA), Ellerbe, NC, 1856-59.

and M.N. McIver, pastor of Union Church, 1895-1898, was also a pastor of Mt. Carmel Presbyterian Church (PCA), Ellerbe, NC, 1891-93.

In short, it is indeed a small world (cue music), and their history is our history, at least in part. With those connections explained, we turn now to the history of Union Presbyterian Church:—

In the 18th century, in those many years leading up to the Revolutionary War for independence, great numbers of Presbyterian Scots entered this new world we call America. While these Scots settled widely throughout the colonies, it is notable that Highland Scots particularly came to the region that was later to become Fayetteville, North Carolina. Finding dense forests of pines and many swamps, they hewed out a civilization for their families. But they didn’t abandon their Presbyterian convictions back in the old country. Their faith was alive and prospering in this new land as well.

robertsJohnK_Union_Church_1910_historyIn an online history of Union Presbyterian Church of Carthage, North Carolina, we find an August 10th and 11th homecoming report which relates the history of this local church beginning in 1797.  The author of this history, the Rev. John Roberts (pictured at right), describes those earlier days when he writes:

“When Scotland turned to Protestantism, every village and hamlet cried out for the preached Word. There were not enough ministers to supply the demand. John Knox divided Scotland into Ecclesiastical Districts and appointed a minister or evangelist over each division to visit the churches, to baptize the children, receive members in the church and administer the communion. The regular Sabbath day worship was led by the local elders. John Knox prepared a liturgy for their use. Though not stated, one would infer from reading Foote’s ‘Sketches’ that Rev James Campbell inaugurated a somewhat similar plan through the Scotch settlements. When we remember the demoralization of the Revolution, the fierce hatred of a cruel internecine warfare through which the Scotch settlements passed, the devout character, the deep piety, the family altar, the catechetical instruction of the children, and the strict observance of the Lord’s day, (all this) can be explained in no other way than that every Scotch community had its place of meeting for the service of God upon the Sabbath day.”

What is important to remember in this brief description of their beginnings in a new land is their commitment to their Presbyterian convictions.  Just as was the case in Scotland in the beginning days of the Reformation there, under John Knox, so here in the early days of the colonies, each home was a congregation unto itself. What stood out to this author was that in those early days, there was found “devout character, deep piety, a family altar, catechetical instruction of the children, strict observance of the Lord’s Day, and a place of meeting for the service of God on the Christian Sabbath. All this, the Scotch communities in America had in common. They kept the families of God together when ministers were scarce in the land.

Words to Live By: Suppose in all of your congregations of which you are a member, the pastors were removed. The question is, with their absence from the congregation, would biblical Christianity continue? In other words, would home religion as evidenced by your devout characters, your deep piety, the family altar, continued catechetical instruction in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, and your observance of the Lord’s Day continue? If so, how long? This is a solemn question to ponder, perhaps pray about, to examine yourself spiritually, and to return to sacred habits begun earlier in your life, but forsaken in time.

Hebrews 10:22 – 25 says “Let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another in love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.


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The Lord’s Servant Should Not Strive.

Yesterday’s post was on the Rev. Asa Hillyer, and the following portion of a sermon by Rev. Hillyer will have to suffice for this Lord’s Day.

The 1837 division of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. left Dr. Hillyer on the side of the New School. He deplored the schism, but never let it affect his fraternal relations with those from whom he was ecclesiastically separated. He recommended mutual forbearance and charity, and enjoyed to the end of his life, which was now near at hand, the unabated good-will and warm personal esteem of prominent men on both sides of the Old School/New School division.

In his final days, one of Hillyer’s last public efforts was a sermon preached before the Synod of Newark, taking as his text the words of Abraham to Lot:

Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdsmen and thy herdsmen; for we be brethren. Is not the whole land before thee?” (Genesis 13:8-9).

Rev. Hillyer urged that there was ample room in our vast country for the fullest activity and expansion of both Assemblies [Old School and New School], and, holding up the noble example of the Hebrew patriarch, he said–

“Let all who have interest in the throne of grace, and all who love the Redeemer and the Church which he purchased with His own blood, unite their prayers and their influence for the spread of this benevolent, this heavenly principle. Beloved brethren, (he added), permit me as your elder brother, as one who has borne the heat and burden of the day, and whose departure is at hand, affectionately to press these remarks upon the Synod now convened. We are indeed a little band. Separated from many whom we love, we occupy a small part of the vineyard of our common Lord. But let us not be discouraged. Let none of our efforts to do good be paralyzed by the circumstances into which we have been driven. Rather let us with increased zeal and diligence cultivate the field which we are called to occupy, while we are always ready to cooperate with our brethren in every part of the land in spreading the Gospel of the grace of God, and in saving a wretched world from ruin.”

Words to Live By:
From what I have seen of his story, I suspect that Rev. Hillyer did not personally hold to the errors that properly characterized the New School wing of the division. His continued fraternal relations with Old School men offers some proof of that. He was, in his own words, more “driven by circumstances,” as many numbered among the New School were. It is a mark of good Christian maturity to hold your convictions firmly, yet still be able to work alongside other Christians who may not share your every conviction or who may have other affiliations. Such fellowship may certainly have its limits, but much can often be accomplished within those constraints. Notice that phrase in Hillyer’s words, above—the Gospel of the grace of God. Without that foundation, there can be no true fellowship. But where we share that common ground of the Gospel of the grace of God, there—and there only—do we have a basis for praying together and working together.

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It is the Lord’s Day again, and every Lord’s Day should be a day of remembering the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. By His death, He paid the debt of our sins. By His resurrection, He gave irrefutable proof that the debt was canceled.

James Alexander Bryan [20 March 1863 - 28 January 1941]The Rev. James A. Bryan, known affectionately as Brother Bryan of Birmingham, was a powerfully effective pastor and evangelist in the city of Birmingham, Alabama in the early 20th-century. He was particularly effective in his ministry to the poor of the city, both black and white. The following sermon is from one of three published collections of Brother Bryan’s sermons, all apparently quite rare now.


We remember that Jesus, to comfort Mary and Martha, walked 35 miles to their homes in Bethany. With the weeping sisters we read that “Jesus wept.” Oh, my dear friends, when their hearts were sorely grieved over the death of their brother Jesus Himself wept with them. Another very striking thing just here is one of the wonderful sentences which Jesus uttered to them in these words: “Thy brother shall rise again.”

And so, my friends, Jesus speaks to you and to me concerning our sleeping loved ones and it should be very comforting and inspiring to hear Him as He says, “Thy mother, thy father, thy brother, thy sister, thy friend or thy friends shall rise again.” You may be sorely grieved over the loss of a little child or a daughter or a son, but how comforting to hear Jesus say, “Thy child, thy little friend, thy daughter, thy son shall rise again in the last day in the resurrection.”

I wish you to notice the culture and refinement, education, spiritual education of these lovely sisters at Bethany. Martha responded to Christ’s words by looking up into His face and speaking softly and calmly, “Yes, Lord, I know that my brother who is sleeping in his sepulcher down at the foot of this hill will rise again in the resurrection in the last day.” Now Martha was a Jewess and deep down in her heart was that Jewish belief of the resurrection of the dead in the last day as Christ was then teaching in His words: “Thy brother shall rise again.” The spiritually-minded Hebrew or Jew was most secure in such a belief, and this wonderful Jewess of Bethany tells Christ that this was a certainty in her life.

And yet this sleep was mighty hard for Martha to bear because she loved her brother dearly. The separation from love is mighty hard. Lazarus was a loving brother. While we love the separation is mighty hard. Then Jesus, to continue to comfort the grieved and sorrowing sister, said, “I am the resurrection and the life, he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” It was Jesus who had also said, “I am the bread of life, I am the living water of eternal life, I am the light of this dark world, I am the way, the truth, and the life.” And He says, “I am the resurrection and the life, he that believeth on Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” That is, Jesus was telling Martha, and is telling the whole world, “I am the resurrection and the life, and whosoever believeth in Me, that I have power over sin and death and the grave unto salvation shall see His power.” And so He is saying this morning, “I am the light of the dark grave in which your loved one or friend is sleeping. I am the power to remove the gravestone. I have power over the darkness to give light.”

“I am the resurrection and the life.” Death is the absence of life and Jesus says of it, “I put life in that body to bring it back unto myself, and whosoever believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live again.” I believe this as positively as I can. If I believe in Him, trust in Him, and daily and hourly reach out for Him, when I die my body goes to sleep and is placed in the graveyard or cemetery to be resurrected again at the last day and my soul goes to Christ. The soul of the Christian, the believer goes to Christ and is made perfect in happiness and holiness. Truly that is the reward of walking by faith and not by sight.

Now Jesus is still in Bethany, where the sisters’ faith has been tested and tried in the separation from their brother whom they loved. Many things are taking place since Christ has raised Lazarus from the dead. It was a very exciting time in Jerusalem, Bethany and the surrounding country to which the news had spread very rapidly. The Jews numbered among the enemies of Christ could not stand for Christ’s popularity. Here in Bethany is a man who had been dead four days and Christ has raised him to life. There was the little daughter of Jairus in Capernaum whom Christ had raised very soon after her death by going into the room where her body had been carefully prepared for the casket or bier, upon which it would be soon placed and borne to the cemetery. There with Peter, James and John, Christ prayed and spoke the resurrecting words, “Talitha Cumi.” “Little maid, I say unto thee, arise.”

Again they had heard how Christ upon entering upon the threshold of the approach into the city of Nain had met a funeral procession of a poor widow’s son, her only support and comfort in a world of trials and temptations. No doubt they were very poor people and the dead body was being carried out of corporation limits to be buried in a lonely country cemetery where funeral expenses were little known. Jesus, touched with the grief of that poor mother, walked up to the bier and touched it, saying, “Son, arise,” and the son arose and was restored to his mother again for her comfort and support.

But now the enemies of Christ have, many of them, witnessed the resurrection of a man who had been dead four days, one day longer than Christ Himself would sleep in the garden tomb. Lazarus had come forth from the tomb bound hand and feet in grave clothes. Jesus turned and said to some of them, “Loose him, and let him go.” Friends, we too, have something to do to carry on the work of Christ, who died on Calvary and was resurrected, and says to us, “Go.” We must be active because there is much to be done. Oh, what a blessed thing it is to be at work for Christ by having the light turned on our lives that we may help others to see Christ, the Light of the world. Oh, to help others see that Christ is the bright and morning star, the express image of God Himself, the chiefest among ten thousand, the One altogether lovely, the Immanuel, the Jesus, the light of this dark world, a friend that sticketh closer than a brother, a brother born for adversity, our mediator, our saviour, our comforter.

We think of what a comforter Christ was to the lovely sisters of Bethany in an hour of grief. He has been such a comforter, and is today such a comforter to thousands of homes. He just longs to be a comforter to all. He wants to be a comforter to the many men and women without work, to those in hospitals without means, to the poor without shoes and without clothes and without food. He is calling to us to go out and help them. Are we answering that call by going out and helping those in need?

Of course, there were curious people about the country who were just crazy with excitement over the great event which had just happened at the foot of the hill, below the little village of Bethany. They might have wanted to see Christ, but they were extremely anxious and curious to see Lazarus. Along about this time the Jewish authorities began in great earnestness to devise a way to kill Christ. In the latter part of this chapter they said, “Do you think He will come to the feast?” They were just seeking a chance to entrap and kill Christ. They could not stand the fact that He could open blind eyes, cleanse lepers, heal weak feverish babies in their mothers’ arms, cast devils out of men and women, restore withered hands, eat with publicans and sinners, and heal sick folks on the Sabbath. They could not stand for Him to say that He and the Father were One and that He robbed God of no glory by taking upon Himself the form of God and also at the same time a fleshly body. That is, in that He became flesh and dwelt among us did not rob God of any glory and honor. His enemies were now ready that all doors be closed to Him and that He be put to death.

Friends, is the door of your heart open to Christ this morning? Is the door of your home open to Christ? Is the door of your business, wherever and whatever it is, open to Christ? Look over your work and see if you have been fair and square with those you have dealt with? Mr. Business Man, look over your books and see if you have charged someone too much. You are not the only one who is keeping an account. God knows about those charges. Oh, is your place open for Christ today? Is He the head and great partner in your work?

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

A Secular Analysis of Marriage and Divorce

Time Magazine in its October 17, 1927 issue had an article on how Presbyterians view  the grounds of divorce.  Listen to its report:  “Presbyterian rules have held that only desertion and adultery are legitimate grounds of divorce.  In this, Presbyterians have been more liberal than most Christian denominations. Most admit only adultery as a divorce cause. A Presbyterian minister might properly marry a divorce[d person, but] only if the person were the innocent derelict of discretion to judge marital innocence. Amiable pew-holders occasionally have tried to strain his [the pastor’s] good will.”

As usual, when the secular press tries to understand church matters, they usually err in that matter. The Presbyterian “rule” on the grounds of adultery is none other than the teaching of the Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 24, sections 5 and 6. It was treated back on the October 8, “Through the Standards” section. It can hardly be interpreted as being “more liberal,” seeing that this creedal standard was formalized in the early seventeenth century.  Presbyterians find a specifically defined allowance for divorce in the texts of both Matthew 19:8-9 and 1 Corinthians 7:12-16. The part about the “amiable pew-holders occasionally have tried to strain his good will” is true. The only word this writer would dispute in that quote is the word “occasionally.”

But it would be far better if the Christian church would ramp up its teaching on Christian marriage. That is what needs to be the focus from the pulpit, in the Sunday School rooms, on marriage retreats, and in the counseling room. This retired pastor preached  a yearly marriage series on Sunday mornings every Lord’s Day between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day during his 38 year ministry. Each year, attention was given in the Christian education curriculum to some aspect of married life. Sometimes this discussion occurred during Sunday School and sometimes during a weekday study. Weekend marriage retreats were also planned and held regularly.  And most importantly, there was a firm policy that the pastor would not officiate at a marriage without the couple having first attended several sessions of required biblical counseling.

Far better to get the facts on the grounds of divorce, not from the secular main-line media, but from the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.

Words to live by: The statistics of divorce are much too high for our evangelical and Reformed churches. We need to be more faithful to our marriage covenants, made not only to God, but also to our spouses.

Through the Scriptures:  Matthew 8 – 11

Through the Standards:  Union with Christ, and Christians

For further study :
PCA position paper on divorce and remarriage (1992).

WCF 26:1
“All saints, that are united to Jesus Christ their Head, by His Spirit, and by faith, have fellowship with Him in His grace, sufferings, death, resurrection, and glory: and, being united to one another in love, they have communion in each other’s gifts and graces, and are obliged to the performance of such duties, public and private, as do conduce to their mutual good, both in the inward and outward man.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

A Soldier Remembers a Sermon

To countless secular Civil War authors, they  seem to take delight in ridiculing the spiritual side of Thomas Jonathan Jackson, better known as “Stonewall” Jackson on the battlefield.  Not knowing or caring that this Presbyterian church deacon was not a mere Christian in name only, but a genuine born-again Christian, some of these authors are embarrassed by his Christian conversation and conduct. Especially do they take delight to record the number of times in which General Jackson fell asleep in a worship service!  And while that happened, there are of course many occasions when he was not only awake, but also took notes in his heart and mind of the sermon preached on that Lord’s Day.  One such occasion was a sermon preached by the Rev. Robert L. Dabney, a Presbyterian chaplain,  on September 26, 1861.   Listen to Jackson’s words, written to his wife Anna Jackson:

“I did not have room enough in my last letter, to write as much as I desired about Dr. Dabney’s sermon yesterday.  His text was from Acts, seventh chapter, and fifty-ninth verse.  [Note: And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” — Acts 7:59, King James version; compare the ESV translation: “And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”]

He stated that the word “God” being in italics indicated that it was not in the original, and he thought it would have been better not to have been in the translation.  It would then have read, ‘calling upon and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’  He spoke of Stephen, the first martyr  under the new dispensation, and  like Abel, the first under the old, dying by the hand of violence, and then drew a graphic picture of his probably broken limbs, mangled flesh and features, conspiring to heighten his agonizing sufferings.

“But in the midst of this intense pain, God, in His infinite wisdom and mercy, permitted him to see the heavens opened, so that he might behold the glory of God, and of Jesus, of whom he was speaking, standing on the right hand of God.  Was not such a heavenly vision enough to make him forgetful of his sufferings?  He beautifully and forcibly described the death of the righteous, and as forcibly that of the wicked.”

That was on this occasion an understanding of both the sermon and the sermon’s application.  For believers who may possibly suffer the loss of their lives, or various limbs of their bodies, as Jackson did later in 1863 regarding both of these cases, that heavenly vision was sufficient to make him forget his earthly sufferings.

Further, another application was that of the blessed gospel, preaching the death of the righteous in contrast to the death of the wicked.  Civil War chaplains always included sincere invitations to believe the gospel and return in commitment to the Lord.  That is why there was such a mighty spiritual awakening of sinners and revival of believers during this years of the War Between the States.

Despite all secular commentators to the contrary, it is obvious on this occasion that we had a close listening to the preached Word with an understanding of the two-fold application of that sermon.  Divine worship was alive and well in Jackson’s heart and life.

Words to live by: It was said of our Lord Jesus, that his custom or habit was always to be found in the Jewish synagogue on the Sabbath.  And the writer to the Book of the Hebrews enjoined believers to not forsake their assembling together as some were already doing in his day and age.   We must be in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, worshiping in His house the Triune God

Through the Scriptures:  Daniel 1 – 3

Through the Standards: Interpretation and Obligation of Oaths

WCF 22:4
“An oath is to be taken in the plain and common sense of the words, without equivocation, or mental reservation.  It cannot oblige to sin; but in anything not sinful, being taken, it binds to performance, although to a man’s hurt.  Nor is it to be violated, although made to heretics, or infidels.”

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