New School Presbyterians

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Despite Your Weaknesses—Often Because of Your Weaknesses—God Can Use You.  

It has always been an issue with some of the covenant people of God that they often cannot relate a particular time when they came to a saving relationship with Christ.  Such was the case with a young man by the name of Eleazer Whittlesey, who moved from Bethlem, Connecticut, to Pennsylvania in the mid 1700’s.

We don’t know much about his background, either his parents or what spiritual influences he had from any church.  He showed up to meet Aaron Burr in Newark, New Jersey by a recommendation from a man named Ballamy.  The infant and later Princeton Seminary was located there, with Pastor Burr as its second president.  The latter clergyman noted that he was “not converted in the way” that many of the Presbyterian clergy of his day thought was necessary.  In fact, President Burr spoke of  having “some doubt” of  his spiritual experience.  He went on to state that “he has met with others of God’s dear people, who cannot tell of such a particular submission as we have insisted on, though the substance of the thing may be found in all.”  However, Rev. Burr placed Eleazar under his pastoral care and believed that he was making good progress in learning.  He ended his thoughts by stating that “I trust the Lord has work for him to do.”

Seven years later, Eleazer would graduate from Nassau Hall in Princeton, New Jersey, to which the new college has moved.  He was licensed by the New Castle Presbytery soon afterwards.  We could find no record of his ordination however.  In 1750, he began to supply vacancies, of which there were many at this time in American Presbytery history.  Yet while  doing that “with zeal and integrity,” Eleazer complained of “melancholy”  which kept  him from being able to study or make preparation for sermons in the pulpit.  His days, he acknowledged, were often spent in “painful idleness.”

In 1751, Whittlesey settled in what is now York County, Pennsylvania, where  he began to preach in a log church in Muddy Run.  Faithful in labor in all the neighboring settlements, it was said that he formed the Slate Ridge and Chanceford Presbyterian churches, composed of Scots-Irish  people.

In 1752, he left a pastor’s house one cold day to travel to the Muddy Run church.  On the way, he became ill with pleurisy, and died about a week later on December 21, 1752.  His last words were “O  Lord, leave me not.”

Words to Live By: We remember the apostle Paul who had “a thorn in the flesh,” and prayed earnestly that it might depart from him. ( 2 Corinthians 12:7, 8)  God answered his request with the word “My grace is sufficient for you, for power in perfected in weakness.” (2 Cor 12;9) God can use us for His kingdom despite our bodily and mental weaknesses.   Remember that, Christian.

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A Parting of the Ways

The Mother of All Schisms in Presbyterianism

Old School Presbyterians . . . New School Presbyterians.  You were either one or the other in the early to mid-nineteenth century in the Presbyterian Church in the United States.  And the issue was not at all a light one.  The fundamentals of the faith were at stake.

First, the Old School Presbyterians held to strict subscription to the church standards, such as the Westminster Standards, with church discipline for any dissenters.  The New School Presbyterians were willing to tolerate lack of subscription if evangelism was being accomplished.

Second, the Old School Presbyterians were opposed to the 1801 Plan of Union with the Congregational church, while New School Presbyterians were committed to it.

Next, the Old School Presbyterians were opposed to the false gospel methodology of a Charles Finney, for example, while the New School Presbyterians did not wish to hinder revival, regardless of a less than theological basis for revivals.

Last, there was the matter of theology.  Influencing the New School Presbyterians were two “isms” like Hopkinism and Taylorism from New England, which denied original sin and gospel redemption.  Old School Presbyterianism held to the Westminster Standards on both of these essentials of the faith.

For several General Assemblies, there were more New School Presbyterian delegates than Old School Presbyterian delegates.  But on June 5, 1837, that majority was reversed, with the Old School Presbyterians in strength.   In the assembly that week, the Assembly was able to abrogate the 1801 Plan of Union with the Congregationalists.  They then proceeded to expel four largely New School synods from the church, composed of 28 Presbyteries, 509 ministers, and 60,000 members!  In one swift vote, they were no longer members of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.

But Presbyterian polity demanded that two General meetings approve of an action like this.  And here the operation took on more of a shady spirit to it than would otherwise be proper for any Christian group.  At the 1838 assembly in Philadelphia, Old School Presbyterian delegates arrived early and took every seat in the convention hall of Seventh Presbyterian Church.  When the New School Presbyterian elders arrived, the Moderator, who was an Old School elder, simply wouldn’t recognize them as legitimate delegates.  The “we don’t know you” phrase was used a lot.  When attempts were made to appeal his ruling, the appeal was put out-of-order by the moderator.

Soon the New School Assembly of Presbyterians were meeting at the back of the church, setting up their own assembly.  Eventually they went down to the First Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia for a separate assembly. An appeal by the New School Presbyterian Church was eventually made to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, which declared the abrogation by the Old School Presbyterians as “certainly constitutional and strictly just.”

Presbyterian churches all over the land were in schisms.  One Presbyterian church in Carlisle Pennsylvania  epitomized the false principle of “the ends justifies the means.”  The session of First Presbyterian Church (Old School)  voted out of love to give $10,000 to the departing New School Presbyterians of the new Second Presbyterian Church in the same town.  When the check had cleared the bank, the Session of Elders of First Presbyterian who had voted to give the money, promptly went over to the New School Presbyterian session!  Another church literally cut in two the building between the Old and New School sides.  All over the land, churches were being divided or left over these important issues.

Words to Live By: Scripture commands us to use biblical means to accomplish His will.  Certainly, in hindsight, there was a real apostasy in the Presbyterian church in the early nineteenth century.  But Bible believers should have dealt with it according to Scriptural principles, not man’s principles.

 

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

The Mother of All Schisms in Presbyterianism

Old School Presbyterians . . . New School Presbyterians.  You were either one or the other in the early to mid-nineteenth century in the Presbyterian Church in the United States.  And the issue was not at all a light one.  The fundamentals of the faith were at stake.

First, the Old School Presbyterians held to strict subscription to the church standards, such as the Westminster Standards, with church discipline for any dissenters.  The New School Presbyterians were willing to tolerate lack of subscription if evangelism was being accomplished.

Second, the Old School Presbyterians were opposed to the 1801 Plan of Union with the Congregational church, while New School Presbyterians were committed to it.

Next, the Old School Presbyterians were opposed to the false gospel methodology of a Charles Finney, for example, while the New School Presbyterians did not wish to hinder revival, regardless of a less than theological basis for revivals.

Last, there was the matter of theology.  Influencing the New School Presbyterians were two “isms” like Hopkinism and Taylorism from New England, which denied original sin and gospel redemption.  Old School Presbyterianism held to the Westminster Standards on both of these essentials of the faith.

For several General Assemblies, there were more New School Presbyterian delegates than Old School Presbyterian delegates.  But on June 5, 1837, that majority was reversed, with the Old School Presbyterians in strength.   In the assembly that week, the Assembly was able to abrogate the 1801 Plan of Union with the Congregationalists.  They then proceeded to expel four largely New School synods from the church, composed of 28 Presbyteries, 509 ministers, and 60,000 members!  In one swift vote, they were no longer members of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.

But Presbyterian polity demanded that two General meetings approve of an action like this.  And here the operation took on more of a shady spirit to it than would otherwise be proper for any Christian group.  At the 1838 assembly in Philadelphia, Old School Presbyterian delegates arrived early and took every seat in the convention hall of Seventh Presbyterian Church.  When the New School Presbyterian elders arrived, the Moderator, who was an Old School elder, simply wouldn’t recognize them as legitimate delegates.  The “we don’t know you” phrase was used a lot.  When attempts were made to appeal his ruling, the appeal was put out-of-order by the moderator.

Soon the New School Assembly of Presbyterians were meeting at the back of the church, setting up their own assembly.  Eventually they went down to the First Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia for a separate assembly. An appeal by the New School Presbyterian Church was eventually made to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, which declared the abrogation by the Old School Presbyterians as “certainly constitutional and strictly just.”

Presbyterian churches all over the land were in schisms.  One Presbyterian church in Carlisle Pennsylvania  epitomized the false principle of “the ends justifies the means.”  The session of First Presbyterian Church (Old School)  voted out of love to give $10,000 to the departing New School Presbyterians of the new Second Presbyterian Church in the same town.  When the check had cleared the bank, the Session of Elders of First Presbyterian who had voted to give the money, promptly went over to the New School Presbyterian session!  Another church literally cut in two the building between the Old and New School sides.  All over the land, churches were being divided or left over these important issues.

Words to Live By: Scripture commands us to use biblical means to accomplish His will.  Certainly, in hindsight, there was a real apostasy in the Presbyterian church in the early nineteenth century.  But Bible believers should have dealt with it according to Scriptural principles, not man’s principles.

Through the Scriptures: Proverbs 15 – 18

Through the Standards:The nature and grounds of true assurance

WCF 18:2
“This certainty is not a bare conjectural and probable persuasion grounded on a fallible hope; but an infallible assurance of faith founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation, the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made, the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God, which Spirit is the earnest of our inheritance, whereby we are sealed to the day of redemption.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:   Does Doctrine Divide While Mission Unites?

This was the sentiment when the schism of 1837 between the Old School and New School Presbyterians was  healed in the days following May 20, 1869.  Doctrine had divided the Presbyterian church but it was not insignificant doctrines.  It is what made the Presbyterian Church what it was, namely, a biblical, Reformed church according to its subordinate standards, the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms.  The Old School, led by Princeton Theological Seminary men, held to it, while the New School Presbyterians, led by men like Albert Barnes and Charles Finney, wanted to weaken it.  (We will see all of the issues in an upcoming devotional on the schism on June 5)  But for this day, we look at the first day of the General Assembly in 1869 when there was talk of and actions of reunion.  Why did this change take place?

The pivotal reason was that a terrible Civil War had taken place in the land which consumed their attention and placed concerns for doctrine to shift to secondary place.  Ministers and churches of both Old School and New School Presbyterians were now united in political issues as it had to do with the support of the Federal government.  Slavery concerns were now a dead issue in that the war had brought  freedom for blacks.  Reconstruction was now the matter on the front burner, and both Old School and New School pretty much agreed on that.

It can also be said that the New School had become more conservative in their theology.  They had departed from the Plan of Union with the Congregationalist churches.  The New England theology which denied of certain fundamental doctrines was, for the most part, no longer an issue in their ranks.  In other words, if there was any problem with the Confessional Standards, it wasn’t an open one.  Many of the men and churches who had fought the earlier issues had passed to their heavenly reward, so they were not in the church any longer. Other men were filling their pulpits and positions.

With the opening of this Assembly, the presbyters voted to send the reunion plans down to the Presbyteries.  In the intervening months, 113 Old School presbyteries approved it, with 126 out of 129 Old School presbyteries approving the reunion plans as well.  Only fifty – two ministers of the Old School Presbyterians protested, led again by Princeton Seminary men, like Charles Hodge.

At the next General Assembly in Pittsburgh in 1870, after the required number of presbyteries had passed it,  there was a symbolic march of delegates from each assembly to a certain street in that city, where joining forces, arm in arm, they marched in tandem to Third Presbyterian Church for a mass meeting.  A broadening church had begun in the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America.  Mission and how to serve the masses via ecumenical means, became the watchword for the church.  It would be only a question of time when Reformed conservatives would begin to not recognize the church of their spiritual fathers.

Words to Live By: Many of us are in everyday life led into dozens of compromise situations which are necessary to simply get along with others.  But when that compromise involves fundamental doctrines which weaken our Christian faith, then there is a call to stand up and be counted and hold firm to the faith once delivered unto the saints.  Are you boldly standing for the historic Christian faith?

Through the Scriptures: Psalm 119

Through the Standards:  Particular repentance more important than general repentance

WCF 15:5
“Men ought not to content themselves with a general repentance, but it is every man’s duty to endeavor to repent of his particular sins, particularly.”

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