New School

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kerr_robertPAnd so our Saturday tours through
PRESBYTERIANISM FOR THE PEOPLE ended last week. Apparently that book proved popular enough that its author, the Rev. Robert P. Kerr, was encouraged to expand the work and just five years later he published THE PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF PRESBYTERIANISM THROUGH ALL THE AGES (1888). For its summary nature, and for the benefit of the time line presented here at the end, we present today the final chapter of the latter book.
Rev. Kerr was born in 1850, began his ministerial career in 1873 as pastor of a church in Lexington, Missouri, and served churches in both the old Southern Presbyterian denomination [1873-1903] and in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. [1903-23]. Honorably retired and in ill health in 1915, he died on March 25, 1923.


The Spirit of Presbyterianism.

We have followed the history of Presbyterianism through a course of many centuries; have looked upon its origin, development, sufferings, defeats and victories; and have taken a survey of its present condition and prospects. The attentive reader cannot fail to have seen that the spirit of Presbyterianism, as exemplified in its fruits, is that of the broadest catholicity as well as love of the truth.

Truth, and man, for God, is its motto. The tendency of its operations has been to liberate men from superstition, to give them a thirst for knowledge and for liberty. It is the mother of republicanism in church and state. America, and Great Britain with its world- encircling colonial system, would not have been what they are to-day but for Presbyterianism, in Italy, Switzerland, France, Holland and Scotland. Knowledge and liberty dwell together, and they have come largely from the influence in past ages, of that heaven- born principle of which this book is a history.

The world owes to Presbyterianism a debt it does not feel, and one it can never repay. Comparatively few of the millions of men who enjoy the inestimable blessings of civil and religious liberty care to inquire whence they came, or stop to think how different might have been their lot but for the sacrifices of those who lived long ago, and whose names are oft forgotten. But those who do study causes and effects in the affairs of men, and who follow trains of events back to their origin, will come to render honor where it is due. The philosophy of truth is written in the annals of mankind ; its principles are outlined forever in the profile of history; and there always will be seers who will interpret to men the lessons of the past. Therefore there is no danger that the great doctrines and polity that cluster around the Presbyterian name will ever be forgotten. We behold in the Presbyterian Church a glorious benefactor of mankind in all ages; but it is not enfeebled. It is stronger than ever. We believe that the future has for it as great a work as the past has had, and we sons of a noble church are proud of our mother.

Does the Presbyterian Church despise its sisters, or claim to be the only Church of Christ? No; if it did it would be a contradiction of its very genius and spirit. It acknowledges all God’s people as brothers, and all evangelical churches as equals, inviting their ministers into its pulpits, receiving them into our ministry without re-ordination, and welcoming their members to a communion table which it claims not as its own, but the sacred meeting place of all Christians for fellowship with one another, and with their common Lord. This book will have been written in vain if its perusal should foster a spirit of narrow sectarianism. But if it serve the purpose for which it is designed, it will tend to make Presbyterians who read it love their own church more, and at the same time look upon the world and all the church of God with a broader Christian sympathy.

“And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three—but the greatest of these is Charity.”


A.D. 387. Augustine, pastor of Hippo, baptized.
1415.— John Huss burnt at Constance.
1536. — Calvin published his Institutes.
1560. — First General Assembly met at Edinburgh.
1564. — Death of John Calvin.
1572. — John Knox died.
1628. — First Reformed Church established in New Amsterdam (New York).
1638. — National Covenant signed in Greyfriars Churchyard, Edinburgh.
1643. — Westminster Assembly convened at the Abbey.
1648. — Confession of Faith and Catechisms sanctioned by Parliament.
1679. — Battle of Bothwell Bridge. Covenanters defeated.
1682. — Francis Makemie came to America, and settled in Maryland.
1685. — Revocation of the Edict of Nantes.
1688. — Restoration of Episcopal Church of England and Ireland.
1705. — First Presbytery organized at Philadelphia.
1706. — First recorded ordination to the ministry in United States, at Freehold, New Jersey; John Boyd the candidate.
1717. — The Synod of Philadelphia organized.
1727. — Log College, the mother of Princeton, founded.
1734. — Great awakening under Jonathan Edwards.
1739. — Movement headed by Whitefield.
1745. — Synod divided.
1758. — Synods of New York and Philadelphia reunited. End of Old Side/New Side schism.
1775. — Mechlenberg resolutions adopted.
1776. — John Witherspoon in Congress.
1788. — General Assembly organized.
1837. — The Church divided into two parts, called Old School and New School.
1861. — Separation of the Old School Church into Northern and Southern Divisions.
1869. — Reunion of New School and (Northern) Old School, at Pittsburgh, November 10th.
1875. — Organization of the Alliance of Reformed Churches throughout the world holding the Presbyterian System.

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As settlers moved ever westward in North America, the problem of planting churches in these new regions forced questions of Christian unity and cooperation. So it was that in 1801 that a Plan of Union was agreed to, first by the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. and a year later by the Congregational Association of Connecticut, which would allow a pastor of the one denomination to gather and serve a church of the other denomination. But within some thirty-odd years, the Plan was increasingly seem to be causing problems. For one, the Congregationalists who had been almost unanimously Calvinistic at the turn of the century, were now charged with being infected with elements of heterodoxy, and the influence of these elements was seen as making inroads among Presbyterians. There were other issues and problems, voiced from both sides, and for the Presbyterians, the matter came to a head at the General Assembly of 1837. In the weeks before the Assembly, those opposed to Plan of Union met in conference and drew up a fifteen point Memorial, citing their complaints with the Plan and other matters. These “memorialists” then arrived at the General Assembly, organized and prepared to take action. What follows is E.H. Gillett’s account of that Assembly and the action by the memorialists to bring the Plan to an end. This was the battle between the Old School (the memorialists) and the New School:—

Abrogation of the Plan of Union [1837]

The General Assembly of 1837 met in the Central Presbyterian Church, in Philadelphia, on the 18th of May, and was opened with a sermon by the Rev. John Witherspoon from the words (1 Cor. 1: 10-11), “Now, I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind, and in the same judgment. For it hath been declared to me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you.

The parties into which the Assembly was divided were ably represented. On one side were Rev. Messrs. Breckinridge, Plumer, Murray, and Drs. Green, Elliott, Alexander, Junkin, Baxter, Cuyler, Graham, and Witherspoon. On the other were Drs. Beman, Porter, of Catskill, McAuley, Peters, and Cleland, and Rev. Messrs. Duffield, Gilbert, Cleaveland, Dickinson, and Judge Jessup. The respective strength of the parties was declared in the vote for moderator, the candidate of the former receiving one hundred and thirty seven votes, while the other candidate, Baxter Dickinson, received but one hundred and six. Thus encouraged, the memorialists were confident that they should now be enabled to adopt decisive measures.

The Committee on Bills and Overtures consisted of Messrs. Witherspoon, Alexander, Beman, Cleland, Murray, Todd, and Latta, with four elders. To them along with overtures from Presbyteries on the same subject, the memorial was referred. The report of the committee recommended the adoption of the testimony of the memorialists concerning doctrines, as the testimony of the Assembly. Objection was made. The list of errors noted was fifteen in number. Some members thought that others should be added. One member proposed four others. Dr. Beman thought the list already too long. Of some mentioned in it he had never before heard. It was finally resolved to postpone the question for the present, and to take up the portion of the report bearing upon the Plan of Union.

This subject came before the Assembly on the afternoon of Monday, May 22. It was resolved, first, that between the two branches of the Church concerned in the Plan of Union, sentiments of mutual respect and esteen ought to be maintained, and that no reasonable effort should be spared to preserve a perfectly good understanding between them; secondly, that it was expedient to continue the plan of friendly communications between them as it then existed; but, thirdly, that as the Plan of Union adopted for the new settlements in 1801 was originally an unconstitutional act on the part of the Assembly,—these important rules having never been submitted to the Presbyteries,—and as they were totally destitute of authority as proceeding from the General Association of Connecticut, which is vested with no power to legislate in such cases, and especially to enact laws to regulate churches not within her limits, and as much confusion and irregularity have arisen from this unnatural and unconstitutional system of union, therefore it is resolved that “the act of the Assembly of 1801, entitled a ‘Plan of Union,’ be, and the same is hereby, abrogated.” The vote upon this important measure, which tested the relative strength of the parties in the Assembly, stood one hundred and forty-three to one hundred and ten.

So the Plan of Union was ended. Those interested in reading further in Gillett’s account may click here.

Words to Live By:
In retrospect, Rev. Witherspoon’s opening sermon on 1 Corinthians 1:10-11 was both plaintive and somewhat prophetic of events to follow that week in 1837. While he was a leading voice among the “memorialists,” John Knox Witherspoon [1791-1853] was also the grandson of Dr. John Witherspoon [1723-1794], a prominent founding father of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. Perhaps it was in the light of that heritage and so as something of a statesman for the Church that John Knox Witherspoon delivered his sermon that day, knowing what was ahead, yet hoping for better things. Pray for the Church when self-seeking, bitterness and needless contention arise; stand peaceably for the truth of God’s Word and for the unity of the Body of Christ, remembering that the battle is the Lord’s.

Now, I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind, and in the same judgment. For it hath been declared to me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you.”

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By the 1940s, efforts by modernists were well underway to effect a union between the PCUSA and the PCUS. As conservatives in the PCUS (aka Southern Presbyterian Church) began to fight against these efforts, with the formation of The Southern Presbyterian Journal as one major arm of that effort, the Auburn Affirmation came to summarize all that was wrong with the PCUSA and so criticism of the Affirmation was a key way of opposing the merger. Here, from an early issue of The Journal, the Rev. Daniel S. Gage, a professor at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, offered his critique of the Auburn Affirmation which had been issued in its final form on this day, May 5th, in 1924. 

The Auburn Affirmation
By Rev. Daniel S. Gage, D.D.
Professor of Philosophy and Bible,
Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri.

[excerpted from The Southern Presbyterian Journal, 1.5 (August 1942) 16-19.]

This document is one of the most important ecclesiastical papers ever issued. It deserves the most careful study, and this must of necessity be rather lengthy if studied in an article such as this.

It is thought by some that it merely raised some constitutional questions as to the powers of the General Assembly. It is true that this was raised by it, but only as the basis for a far more important “affirmation”. The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., in reply to an overture from the Presbytery of Baltimore, in 1910, calling attention to the existence of doubts and denials of the faith of the Church, pronounced certain doctrines “essential”. The Assembly of 1916 repeated them and in 1923 the Assembly again declared them to be “essential” doctrines of the Word of God and of the Standards. We quote them from the actions of that Assembly as its deliverance was followed by the Auburn Affirmation.

1. It is an essential doctrine of the Word and of our Standards that the Holy Spirit did so inspire, guide and move the writers of Holy Scripture as to keep them from error.

2. It is an essential doctrine of the Word of God and our Standards that the Lord Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary.

3. It is an essential doctrine of the Word of God and our Standards that Christ offered up “Himself a sacrifice to satisfy Divine justice and to reconcile us to God.”

4. It is an essential doctrine of the Word of God and our Standards concerning the Lord Jesus Christ that on the third day he arose again from the dead, with the same body with which He suffered, with which He also ascended to heaven and there sitteth at the right hand of His Father, making intercession for us.

5. It is an essential doctrine of the Word of God as the supreme standard of our faith that our Lord Jesus showed His power and love by working mighty miracles. This working was not contrary to nature but superior to it. An affirmation which, on the title page, declares that it is designed to safe-guard the unity and liberty of the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A., was issued on May 5, 1924. It was signed by 1,283 ministers.

In some preliminary notes the “Conference Committee” says that through their correspondence they had certain knowledge that there were hundreds of ministers agreeing with the approving of the Affirmation who had refrained from signing it. They also in these notes declared that among the signers were conservatives and liberals.

“Differing as to certain theological interpretations, they are one in loyalty to our Church, to the Kingdom of God and in faith in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” They said that these signatures constitute an appeal to the church “for a general adoption of this same spirit of mutual confidence and unity, for a recognition of the fact that our church is broad enough to include men honestly different in their interpretations of our common standards and yet loyal, servants of Jesus, and for a new consecration of the whole church to work for the world, in obedience to our Lord.” In the Affirmation, itself, it is, stated at the beginning that the signers “feel bound in view of certain actions of the General Assembly of 1923 and of persistent attempts to divide the church and abridge its freedom, to express our convictions in matters pertaining thereto.” They asserted that they accepted the Westminster Confession of Faith “as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures”. Also, that they sincerely held and earnestly preached the doctrines of evangelical Christianity in agreement with the historic testimony of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, “of which we are loyal members”. “For the maintenance of the faith of our church, the preservation of its unity and the protection of the liberties of its ministers and people, we offer this Affirmation.”

Let us first note the constitutional questions raised by the Affirmation. It was a matter of wide report that there was being preached in the First Presbyterian Church of New York, doctrines quite contrary to the Standards. The Assembly ordered the Presbytery of New York to take steps to end this situation. The Affirmation holds that in so doing the Assembly went beyond its powers and handled the case unlawfully. But that by itself would not have made the Affirmation very important. But, more important, they held that the Assembly by declaring the above named Doctrines “essential parts” of the Word of God and of the Standards and in enjoining Presbyteries not to ordain candidates who did not subscribe to all of them in the form in which the Assembly had stated them, was, in effect, creating a new Confession of Faith. That, also it had altered the Ordination vows of a minister which had asked that he accept the Standards as “containing the system of doctrine taught in the Scriptures” and that this vow did not compel a minister to put on that system the interpretation which the Assembly had so specifically expressed. They held that if these doctrines in this form were to be made essential and belief in all of them required, it should have been done by action of the Presbyteries in the constitutional manner prescribed for alteration of the Constitution and Standards of the Church. This was, of course an important problem. It was never settled but, as the sequence shows, went by default. These are the constitutional questions raised by the Affirmation. The remainder and by far the most important part, is devoted to a different problem.

It will have been noted that the signers declared that among their reasons for issuing the document, was “the protection of the liberties of its ministers and people”. Also, that there had been persistent attempts made “to bridge its (the church’s) freedom.” Of course this freedom was freedom of belief for no other kind of freedom is assailed by a Protestant Church, whose sanctions are limited to those of spiritual nature. And, it would be manifest without further study, that the signers believed their freedom of belief had been assailed by the deliverances of the Assembly in declaring certain doctrines “essential.” And, without further study it would be clear that the signers did not believe these doctrines to be essential. But further study will be made.

The Document begins by saying: “By its laws and history, the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. safe-guards the liberty of thought and teaching of its ministers. At ordination they receive and adopt the Confession of Faith of this Church as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scripture. This the Church has always esteemed a sufficient subscription. Manifestly, it does not require their assent to the very words of the Confession or to all its teachings or to interpretations of the Confession by individuals or church courts.” “The Confession also expressly asserts the liberty of Christian believers and condemns the submission of the mind or conscience to any human authority.” Here they refer to the Conf. XX, ii.

The Affirmation then proceeds to state parts of the history of the Church in which this freedom was asserted. In the act of adopting the Westminster Confession in 1729, the church stated, “there are truths and forms with respect to which men of good character and principles may differ. And in all these they think it the duty both of private Christians and Societies, to exercise mutual forbearance toward each other.”

In the last century there arose in New England a theology widely different from the theology of the Puritans and from the Westminster Standards. Mighty men on both sides entered into the debates which then were held on the problems of the theology then discussed. The New School Theology was never formulated in a definite Creed but its essential difference concerned the relation of mankind to Adam:—the imputation of his sin to man, the imputation of his guilt, being both denied by the New School. Different members of this school held different views on some matters,—especially as to why all men are sinful if no sin was inherited and if there is no “original sin”. Still the leaders of that day on both sides evidently did not take the words of the original Act of Adoption of 1729 as understood by the Affirmation for they did not feel that these profound differences could be harmonized by “mutual forebearance” and in 1837 and 1838 the Church divided into the Old and New School Assemblies. Four ninths of the Church went into the New School. And preceding this division, there had been several trials for heresy.

Here, it should be said that the New School doctrines were almost if not wholly in the Northern Synods. When the Southern Church withdrew it was from the Old School. The official theology of the Southern has been and is, Old School. But the affirmation goes on to say that after 33 years of separation, the theological debates having died down, these two Assemblies, differing so profoundly in interpretation of the Scriptures and the Standards, re-union,—on the basis of the Standards, each recognizing the other as a sound and orthodox body. No attempt was made to harmonize their different theologies. Both could be freely preached in the re-united body. New theories are rarely thought to their ultimate conclusion when first formulated. As far as I am aware, none of the New School at first denied the divinity of Jesus, the Vicarious Atonement, or the accuracy of the Bible. But, it should have been plain from the start, that the less man is a sinner, the less he needs a Saviour. And it should have been plain that if New School doctrines as to the original innocence of man,—the absence of original sin, that there was no imputation to man of either the sin or the guilt of Adam, were correct, then man could save himself, and the inevitable conclusion would be the loss of belief in the divinity of Christ, the Vicarious Atonement, and Humanism, in general.

And the Affirmationists were undoubtedly right in asserting that the history of the Church U.S.A. does show that what is said in one of the introductory paragraphs is correct,—that they were appealing to the Church “for a recognition of the fact that our Church is broad enough to include men honestly differing in their interpretation of our common standards, and yet loyal servants of Jesus Christ.” For since that union of 1870, there has been two wholly different theologies preached in the Church U. S. A., so different that it is impossible to reconcile them, and those differences do not concern minor matters, but are at the very foundation of the whole system of doctrine. That the Church, U.S.A. has been an “inclusive” church since then cannot be doubted.

The Affirmation then goes on to cite in support of their contention as to the fact that the whole history of the church is one of recognition of differing interpretations, the fact that in 1906, the church united with the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. “The union was opposed on the ground that the two churches were not one in doctrine, yet it was consummated. Thus did our church once more exemplify its historical policy of accepting theological differences within its bounds and subordinating them to recognized loyalty to Jesus Christ and united work for the kingdom of God.”

Next, the Affirmation definitely denies that any Council has power to settle any controversies of religion. It quotes the words of the Confession that “the Supreme Guide …. can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture”. “Accordingly our Church has held that the supreme guide in the interpretation of the Scriptures is … the Spirit of God speaking to the Christian believer.” The omitted words refer to the contrary doctrine of the Roman Catholics, and do not in any way alter the meaning of the Affirmation as the Supreme Guide and Judge.

But the Affirmation next challenges the declaration of the Assembly in its first “essential doctrine” that the writers of the Scriptures were kept free from error. It asserts that the Confession does not make this statement,—that it is not to be found in the Apostles’ or Nicene Creeds, nor in any of the great Reformation Confessions, and hold that the General Assembly of 1923 in so asserting, “spoke without warrant of the Scriptures or the Confession of Faith. We hold rather to the words of the Confession of Faith, that the Scriptures ‘are given by inspiration of God to be the whole rule of faith and life”.

Next, the Affirmation refers to the expression of the General Assembly of 1923, that five doctrinal statements were “essential doctrines of the Word of God and our Standards.” It declares that on the constitutional grounds they have before described, “we are opposed to any and all attempts to elevate these five doctrinal statements or any of them, to the position of tests for ordination or good standing in our church”. The plain meaning of this is that a minister may deny any or all of them and still be in good standing in the church. He may deny the inerrancy of Scripture, the Virgin Birth, the Vicarious Atonement, the Bodily Resurrection and the working of Miracles and be in good standing as to his faith and preaching.

Next, the Affirmation adds:—“Furthermore, this opinion of the General Assembly tends to commit our church to certain theories concerning the inspiration of the Bible, and the Incarnation, the Atonement, the Resurrection and the Continuing Life and Supernatural Power of our Lord Jesus Christ.” It will have been noted that in making the declaration that these doctrines were essential, the Assembly used the verbatim words of the Standards except as to the Miracles. But the Affirmation holds that these words merely express certain theories as to these five doctrines. In their place, the signers next say—and this is important, “We all hold most earnestly to these great facts and doctrines”, (here we call careful attention to the following quotation as it contains the heart of the Affirmation)—”we all believe from our hearts that the writers of the Bible were inspired of God: that Jesus Christ was God manifest in the flesh; that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself and through Him we have our redemption; that having died for our sins He rose from the dead and is our ever-living Saviour; that in His earthly ministry He wrought many mighty works and by His vicarious death and unfailing presence He is able to save to the uttermost.” The above is printed with emphasis, heavy type, in the Affirmation. It would sound well if it were not for what follows. “Some of us regard the particular theories contained in the deliverance of the General Assembly of 1923 as satisfactory explanations of these facts and doctrines. But we are united in believing that these are not the only theories allowed by the Scriptures and Standards as explanations of these facts and doctrines of our religion and that all who hold to these facts and doctrines, whatever theories they may employ to explain them are worthy of all confidence and fellowship”.

Next is added: “We do not desire liberty to go beyond the teachings of evangelical Christianity. But we maintain that it is our constitutional right and Christian duty within these limits to exercise liberty of thought and teaching that we may more effectively preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world.” The Affirmation closes with a paragraph which deplores the evidence of division in the church, and appeals to all to preserve the unity and freedom of the Church.

It will be noted that in the above statement of the facts and doctrines which all hold, it is admitted that the Biblical writers were inspired but they decline to believe that they were kept by the Spirit free from error. They believe God was in Christ, but not by the Virgin Birth. Nor was Jesus Christ necessarily then truly God and Man with two distinct natures and one person. That Jesus did rise from the dead but they decline to hold that it must have been by the resurrection of the body with which he was buried. That He did many mighty works but they decline to hold that they must have been genuine miracles. That His death was vicarious and yet the Atonement was not necessarily of such nature. In other words, all these views in the Confession reasserted by the Assembly are but theories for explanation of the above facts. Other theories are possible according to the Affirmation. One who denies all the above theories as expressed in the Confession could hold other theories and still be in good and regular standing and worthy of all confidence and fellowship.

How different might be the theologies preached in church in which all these theories might be believed by some and denied by others would be hard to say. Is it unfair to say that almost any doctrine short of denial of Jesus as Lord and Saviour could be preached? Almost any doctrine as to the reliability of Scripture, as to the person and nature of Christ,—as to the nature of His atonement,—as to His resurrection,—as to his life on earth as far as miracles are concerned. Could not ALL miracles be denied? Could it not be held that Jesus was but a man in whom God manifested Himself? Could not one hold other theories as to the appearance of Christ in the upper room than that He actually appeared in the Body? And so with other appearances? Of course he could,—if the statements of the Assembly which quotes the words of the Confession are but theories and other theories are possible.

The singers of the Affirmation declared that they had the constitutional right to preach other theories. And this was granted by the fact that the Committee of the Assembly of 1924 to which the Affirmation was referred recommended that no action be taken. Therefore, men of liberal views, of conservative views,—holding the Old School doctrines as to the sinfulness of man and those of the New School denying it, and therefore not so needing a Saviour as if he were “dead in trespasses and sin”,—those of Arminian theology as found in the Cumberland Church, and those of strict Calvinism; and other views which may be held are all in the one Church. The constitutional power of the Assembly to declare certain “theories” as the Affirmationists called them, of the Facts of Christianity to be essential, was never brought to the test. It was never sent to the Presbyteries. The Church decided to preserve outward ecclesiastical unity by permitting any private interpretation to be put on all the facts of Christianity. In their statement as to the Supreme Guide of doctrine these words are used, “accordingly our church has held that the supreme guide in the interpretations of the Scriptures is not, as with Roman Catholics, ecclesiastical authority, but the Spirit of God speaking to the Christian believer”. Any believer therefore has the right to hold his interpretations of all the facts of the Christian life. Certainly, this is true. But whether any believer has the right to preach his private interpretations and remain in a particular church, is not necessarily the case. Two courses are manifestly open to all organized churches. They may decide to permit any and all interpretations and thus preserve outward unity by permitting inward diversity.

The Affirmationists declared that they did not desire to go beyond the bounds of evangelical Christianity. But any one could freely determine for himself what these bounds were, decide for himself what evangelical Christianity is, and they claimed and received this right. On the other hand, any Church can, if it choose, decide that it wishes real unity of belief, and a consistent unified message in its bounds,—it may if it choose, decide what is the “Gospel” and what as Paul says, are “not even other gospels for they are no Gospel at all”. Outward unity at the price of inward diversity,—or real unity both outward and inward,—a declaration as to what is the true “Gospel” and the permission of any doctrine as to the Gospel,—these are apparently the lines which Churches must choose. Our Church so far has chosen to try to preserve both inward and outward unity. We must pay the price if we give up our real inward unity.

This study is written to call the attention of our Southern Church to the situation should there come organic union between the two Assemblies. We would enter a body far larger than ours in which all the above doctrines could be preached, and, of course, then, they could be preached in any part of our now Southern Church. That this amounts to removing almost all doctrinal standards needs for proof only that the Affirmation be studied. For note the paragraph introductory of the Affirmation to which reference was made near the beginning of this article,—that the Affirmation is an appeal for the recognition of the fact that our church is broad enough to include men differing in their interpretation of our common Standards.” It is the Interpretation which a man puts on words,—not the words, themselves, which determines his beliefs. Differing interpretations may mean differing and even mutually exclusive theologies. Organic union would be but outward, while there would not and could not be any real inner unity.


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“A nail driven in a sure place.”

William Miller Paxton is another of those names that seems now forgotten to the modern ear. He was notably a pastor in Pittsburgh, then a professor of homiletics (preaching), first at Western Theological Seminary, also in Pittsburgh, and later at the Princeton Theological Seminary, with a pastorate in New York City falling between those two appointments. His grandfather, the Rev. Dr. William Paxton, was also a noted pastor, who was born on April 1, 1760 and who died on April 16, 1845. But in researching the extended family, I was intrigued by this account and so am posting here today an account of the grandson, rather than the grandfather. The full account, and more, can be read here, but in abbreviated form and touching on just a few of the significant events in Dr. Paxton’s life, here is a portion of the eulogy given by Dr. Benjamin B. Warfield for his friend and colleague:—

paxtonWmMWilliam Miller Paxton was descended from a godly ancestry of thoroughly Presbyterian traditions…The earliest of his paternal ancestors who has been certainly traced—the fourth in ascent from him—is found a little before the middle of the eighteenth century living in Bart township, Lancaster county, Pennsylvania, in a Scotch-Irish community which worshiped at Middle Octorara Church. The only son of this founder of the family served as an elder in that church; and out of it came his son, Dr. Paxton’s grandfather, the Rev. Dr. William Paxton, who, after having like his father before him fought in the Revolutionary War for the liberties of his country, enlisted as a soldier of Christ in the never-ceasing conflict for righteousness. Crossing the Susquehanna, he was settled in 1792 as pastor of Lower Marsh Creek church, in what is now Adams county, Pennsylvania, and there fulfilled a notable ministry of half a century’s duration.

Dr. Paxton’s father, Colonel James Dunlop Paxton, was a man of intelligence and enterprise, of fine presence and large influence in the community, engaged in the manufacture of iron, first at Maria Furnace, and later near Gettysburg and Chambersburg. It was at Maria Furnace that William Miller Paxton was born, on the seventh day of June, 1824. His youth was passed mostly at Gettysburg…his collegiate training at Pennsylvania College. He began the study of law, [but] united on profession of faith with the Falling Spring Presbyterian Church at Chambersburg, in March, 1845, …[and] Not more than a month after uniting with the church, on April 9th, 1845, he was received under the care of the Presbytery of Carlisle as a candidate for the ministry, and in the ensuing autumn he repaired to Princeton for his theological training.

…”I well remember,” he has told us himself, “that when I was a student, no young man could pass through his first year without being constrained to reexamine his personal hope and motives for seeking the sacred office.” No doubt this is primarily an encomium upon the pungency of the religious training of those four great men under whose instruction he sat—Drs. Archibald Alexander and Samuel Miller, Drs. Charles Hodge and Addison Alexander….One of the things Dr. Paxton always congratulated himself upon was that he had had a double training in theology. “The class to which I belonged,” he tells us, “heard” Dr. Archibald Alexander’s “lectures upon Didactic Theology as well as those of Dr. Hodge. Dr. Hodge gave us a subject with massive learning, in its logical development, in its beautiful balance and connection with the whole system. Dr. Alexander would take the same subject and smite it with a javelin, and let the light through it. His aim was to make one point and nail it fast. I always came from a lecture with these words ringing through my mind, “A nail driven in a sure place.”

…The greatest ecclesiastical event which occurred during Dr. Paxton’s New York ministry was, of course, the reunion of the Old and New School branches of the Church. He was of the number of those who did not look with satisfaction on the movement for union. Oddly enough, however, as a member of the Assembly of 1862, when corresponding delegates to the New School body were for the first time appointed, and of that of 1870, when the consummated union was set upon its feet, he was an active factor in both the beginning and end of the movement…When once the union was accomplished, he became one of the chief agents in adjusting the relations of the two long separated bodies.

…In 1883 he came to Princeton to take up the work of the chair of Ecclesiastical, Homiletical and Pastoral Theology, made vacant by the resignation of Dr. McGill. His church, which had grown steadily under his hands from 257 members to 409 in 1883, and whose affection for its pastor had grown with the years, was loath to give him up.

Words to Live By:
Dr. Warfield continued in his eulogy for Paxton, with a message that was close to Warfield’s own heart:—

…what he took his real stand upon was the perfectly sound position that our theological seminaries are primarily training-schools for ministers, and must be kept fundamentally true to this their proper work.
From this point of view he was never weary of warning those who were charged with the administration of these institutions against permitting them to degenerate into mere schools of dry-as-dust and, from the spiritual standpoint, useless learning. A very fair example of his habitual modes of thought and speech on this subject may be read in the charge which he delivered to his life-long friend, Dr. A.A. Hodge—whom he loved as a brother and admired as a saint of God—when Dr. Hodge was inaugurated as professor in this seminary. Permitting himself greater freedom, doubtless, because he knew he was addressing one sympathetic to his contentions, he becomes in this address almost fierce in his denunciations of a scholastic conception of theological training, and insistent to the point of menace in his assertion of the higher duty of the theological instructor. Pointing to the seminary buildings—he was speaking in the First Church—he exclaimed: “There stands that venerable institution. What does it mean? What is the idea it expresses? . . . Is it a place where young men get a profession by which they are to make their living? Is it a school in which a company of educated young men are gathered to grind out theology, to dig Hebrew roots, to read patristic literature, to become proficients in ecclesiastical dialects, to master the mystic techniques of the schoolmen, and to debate about fate, free-will, and the divine decrees? If this is its purpose, or its chief purpose, then bring the torch and burn it! . . . We do not in any way deprecate a learned ministry. We must have learning . . . .But whenever in a theological seminary learning takes the precedence, it covers as with an icicle the very truths which God designed to warm and melt the hearts of men. . . .No, no, this is not the meaning of a theological seminary . . .It is a school of learning, but it is also a cradle of piety!”

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by Rev. Leonard Van Horn.

Q. 4 — What is God?

A. — God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.

Scripture References: John 4:24; Mal. 3:6; Psa. 147:5; Rev. 19:6; Isa. 57:15; Deut. 32:4; Rom. 2:4; Psa. 117.2.


1. Why is this question so fundamental for the soul of man?

It is essential for Hebrews 9:6 states, “He that cometh unto God, must believe that he is.” If man can accept the first words of Scrip­ture, “In the beginning God . . .” he is on the right road, for this is a truth upon which all other truths depend.

2. How can we accept and know this basic truth?

Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, reveals God to us and it is only through Christ that we come to God. The Bible says, “No man hath seen God at any time, the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” (John 1:18). “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth and the life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6).

3. In the light of the answer to Question Number Four, with what atti­tude should we approach God?

We should approach Him as the Almighty, Sovereign God. In the front of a particular church, in plain sight of the congregation there was a sign: “Know Whom Before You Stand!” We should always approach Him in our thoughts, words and deeds with the recogni­tion that He is all that the answer to this question proclaims Him to be. ‘

4. What is meant by the statement, “God is a Spirit?”

The meaning is that He is invisible, without body or bodily parts, not like a man or any other creature. (From Minutes of Session of Westminster Assembly).

5. In Theology what term do we use in regard to the adjectives used to describe God?

We call these the attributes of God and separate them into His in­communicable and communicable attributes.

6. Why do we separate them in this way?

We separate them in this way because His incommunicable attri­butes are not found in any way in his creatures. These are His In­finity, eternity and unchangeableness. His communicable attributes, (being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth), are found in some degree in man. Obviously, in man, these attributes are faint, limited and imperfect as compared with God.

“God is a Spirit; and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24). These words, spoken by Jesus to the woman at the well, are words for today. There is much worship going on today, but “let us examine ourselves” — is our worship true worship? Man was created for fellowship with God and the worship of God oc­cupies a lofty place in attaining unto that fellowship.

How can we worship Him in spirit and in truth? Only when we worship Him with the knowledge of what he is savingly in Christ for the benefit of lost sinners. When there is this realization in the individ­ual soul, it is possible for the person to begin the worship of God accord­ing to His will. It is then that the soul will be able to say with Moses, “Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods? who is like thee, glo­rious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?” (Ex. 15:11). It is only when man is saved through personal faith in Jesus Christ that he is able to approach his Maker with the right attitude in worship.

In Presbyterian circles the charge has often been made that the service is too cold, too formal. If such be true, could the reason for it be found in the failure of the congregation to worship in spirit and in truth? Many people feel that worship has to do with ceremonies or visible observances. Indeed, many are inclined to feel that it is difficult to worship unless stained glass windows, divided chancel and beautiful music are all present. We must not forget that the worship of God is spiritual. Calvin stated, “If we manifest a becoming reverence toward him only when we prefer his will to our own, it follows that there is no other legitimate worship of Him but the observance of righteousness, sanctity, and purity.”

Not long ago I was in the replica of the first Presbyterian church established in Claiborne County, Mississippi. A simple log building with a handmade pulpit is all that meets the eye of the worshiper. The thought came to me that after all, real worship has to do with our recognition of the Greatness of the Sovereign God. When we understand who He is, when our lives honor His Sovereignity, when we understand we are sinful creatures redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, it is then that we are more nearly able to worship Him as we should. Arthur W. Pink tells us that our attitude toward the Almighty, Sovereign God should be one of godly fear, implicit obedience, entire resignation and deep thankfulness and joy. These characteristics of a born again person will enable him to worship in spirit and in truth.

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