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A Supreme Court Justice Plants a Church

When forty thousand Christians on December 4, 1973 started a new Presbyterian Church, they were understandably excited beyond measure for the fruition of plans to begin a Bible-believing, Gospel-preaching church true to the Scriptures, the Reformed Faith, and the Great Commission.  Though they essentially had left the Southern Presbyterian church (PCUS), they had a vision of impacting the whole nation.  So they named their denomination the National Presbyterian Church.  They immediately however encountered a road block to the choice of that name.  There already was a congregation by that name, the National Presbyterian Church, located in Washington, D.C., and this local church had a national mission to all the states and even beyond, primarily as an endorsing authority for military chaplains. So in the second year of its existence, the new denomination changed its name to the Presbyterian Church in America.

National Presbyterian Church [the congregation] had its beginnings in two PCUSA congregations located in the nation’s capitol. The First Presbyterian Church, which began in the last decade of the seventeen hundreds in our nation’s capitol, was the home of countless presidents.  Chief executives like Jackson, Polk, Pierce, Buchanan, Cleveland made this their Washington home church.

William Strong, Supreme Court Justice [6 May 1808-19 August 1895The other congregation which joined to make National Presbyterian what it is today was Covenant Presbyterian Church.  It was begun when eleven ruling elders of  New York Avenue Presbyterian Church met in the home of Supreme Court Justice William Strong on March 11, 1883 to plant another Presbyterian church in the capitol.  Its first service was in 1889 and it was dedicated in 1901.  Early attenders were President Harrison and Alexander Graham Bell.  It became the home church of President Dwight David Eisenhower, when he was elected to this high position.

Both churches united and were designated as the National Presbyterian Church as an action of the Presbyterian Church USA in 1946.   Thus, they did not wish any confusion as to what would be considered the National Presbyterian Church.

In hindsight, the decision to change the denominational name rather than contest the matter, while gracious, was also providential. For so the churches, sessions, and elders who came out of the PCUS church in 1973 were then enabled to choose what their real calling  was to be, namely, the Presbyterian Church in America.

Words to Live By: God doesn’t ever make any mistakes.  If an action in your life, or the life of your church, at first seems a puzzle, just wait for God’s providence to make it clear.

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In All that We Say and Do, Let Us Live to His Glory.

Last year, when we could not tie some Presbyterian event or person to a given date, we had recourse to the Westminster Shorter Catechism. On this day last year, the following was our post, and it seems pertinent this year as well. We pray that all that we have done with our posts has in fact been to the glory of God. May God’s kingdom be firmly established throughout the world. May each of us rest in His grace and prayerfully, obediently seek to be used for His glory.

Remember when this writer said that many Presbyterian people must  have been taking a sabbatical in December?  Well, on this day of December 30, we conclude our substitute study  on The Lord’s Prayer with the last phrase of this prayer. The last Shorter Catechism question [Q. 107] asks, “What doth the conclusion of the Lord’s prayer teach us?” And the answer given is “The conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer, which is, For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen. teaches us to take our encouragement in prayer from God only, and in our prayers to praise him, ascribing kingdom, power, and glory to him; and in testimony of our desire and assurance to be heard, we say, Amen.”

David in 1 Chronicles 29:10-13 prayed, “So David blessed the LORD in the sight of all the assembly, and David said, ‘Blessed are You, O LORD God of Israel our father, forever and forever. Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth; Yours is the dominion, O LORD, and You exalt Yourself as head over all.  Both riches and honor come from You, and You rule over all, and in Your hand is power and might; and it lies in Your Hand to make great and to strengthen everyone. Now therefore, our God, we think You, and praise Your glorious name.’”

All these are arguments to enforce our petitions.  And please notice that they are all based on God, on His works of creation and redemption, on Him alone. You will find no man-made encouragements in this Old Testament text. The conclusion, whether if was truly there originally or not, is God-centered, and whether we use the specific words, or simply other words in our pleading with God, it is a right and noble conclusion to the Lord’s Prayer.

Words to live by:  Our pleading with God must never be based upon our merit, of which we don’t have any in the first place anyhow, but only on the mercy of God. He and He along must receive the praise, and truly His is the kingdom or dominion. His is the power and authority. His is the glory and majesty. May all our prayers, even our most mundane requests, have the glory of God as their greater goal. Amen, and amen.

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hollar_abbey1647_03The first Presbytery of English Puritans was held at Wandsworth, on November 20, 1572, the same year as the Bartholomew massacre. The organizer of this first Presbytery, and the leader of early Presbyterianism in England, was the Rev. Thomas Cartwright, a professor of Divinity in Cambridge. In the appendix to Charles A. Brigg’s American Presbyterianism, there is provided a “Directory of Church Government” practiced by the first nonconformists [non-Anglicans] in the days of Queen Elizabeth, called “Cartwright’s Book of Discipline.” In due course of time Presbyterianism came to be quite powerfully organized in the vicinity of London, even in Elizabeth’s day, but it was rather as a church inside of the state church.

When Elizabeth died, James VI. of Scotland ascended the throne as James I. of England. His mother, Mary, Queen of Scots, had been thwarted by the Presbyterians of Scotland, and James himself had been in perpetual conflict with them. He came to the throne of England a natural despot, confident of his ability, intellectually and physically, to carry out his own will. He was a scholarly, skillful, profane, drunken fool. On the way from Edinburgh to London he received the Millenary Petition, asking relief for the Puritans, and held a conference, under his own presiding, between the friends of High Church Episcopacy and the representatives of free Protestantism. The High Church pretensions and flattery completely carried the day with his egotism; and the only outcome was his agreement to the suggestion of Edward Reynolds, of Oxford, spokesman in behalf of the Puritans, that there should be a new and better translation of the English Bible. That gave us King Jame’s Version.

In 1816 he published a book of sports “to encourage recreation and sports on the Lord’s day.” His theory was “no bishop, no king.” Throughout his reign, therefore, while resisting popery, he sought only to make himself pope of the Episcopal Church in England, and that Episcopal Church the only Church in the three kingdoms. He said that “presbytery agreeth with a monarchy as well as God with the devil.

Hay, George P., Presbyterians, pp. 46-48.

Also on this day in Presbyterian history:
J.J. Janeway1774 — Birth of Jacob Jones Janeway, in the city of New York, the eldest child of George and Effie (Ten Eyck) Janeway. The year 1797 found the young man diligent in the use of the means of grace, and seeking growth in the divine life. “In reviewing my conduct, I felt that my sins were pardoned. In the morning exercise, on Monday, I was somewhat earnest in pleading with God. Towards the end of the week too much absorbed in study.” “This week my soul has been somewhat refreshed. I see that my heart is deceitful and easily ensnared by the world. Though we depart from God in our affections, yet if we strive to return he will accept and help us. Remember, O my soul, the exhortation, Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God that worketh in you, both to will and to do of his good pleasure. To this end I must be circumspect in my conduct, diligent and active.”

alexanderJW111849 — Inauguration of the Rev. James W. Alexander, D.D., as professor of ecclesiastical history and church government in the theological seminary at Princeton. Born near Gordonsville, Virginia, in 1804, the eldest son of Archibald Alexander, James was raised in a household filled with theological giants of the faith.  His father was the president of Hampden-Sydney College at that time.  But by the time that schooling had begun for James, his father had taken the pulpit of the Third Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1807.  Then in 1812, as the new seminary called Princeton began in New Jersey, the Alexander family moved there and Archibald Alexander became the first professor of that new divinity school. Young James graduated from the College of New Jersey in 1820. And while he studied theology at Princeton Seminary from 1822–1824, he would not be ordained by the historic Hanover Presbytery until 1827, having first served about three years as a tutor. He died on July 31, 1859.

— The First Annual Conference of the League of Evangelical Students was held in Grand Rapids, Michigan, November 20-24, 1925. At this conference nineteen schools were represented, eleven theological seminaries and eight Bible schools, and these represented student bodies from Texas to Canada and from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The Conference, with its keynote on unswerving loyalty to the Bible as the only authoritative rule of faith and practice, was held on the campus of Calvin Theological Seminary and Dr. J. Gresham Machen spoke on the theme, “The Church’s Historic Fight against Modernism from Within.” An early 20th-century campus ministry, the League ran its course in a brief fifteen years, overtaken by the wider appeal of InterVarsity.

Harold Samuel Laird1936 — The Rev. Harold S. Laird, pastor of the First Independent Church, Wilmington, was elected president of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions [IBPFM], succeeding the Rev. Dr. J. Gresham Machen. Dr. Machen had also retired that same year as Moderator of the First General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America. The IBPFM had been organized in 1933 in response to the failure of the PCUSA to remove modernists from the foreign mission field. In reaction, the PCUSA’s General Assembly had, in 1934, issued a “Mandate” forbidding PCUSA ministers and laity from involvement with the IPBFM. Their refusal to step down from their participation with the IBPFM led to Machen and about a dozen others being defrocked or otherwise kicked out of the denomination.

soltau_addison_sm021952 — Addison Soltau was ordained on this day in 1952 and installed as pastor of the First Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Memphia, Tennessee. Born in Seoul, Korea, the son of missionary parents T. Stanley and Mary Cross (Campbell) Soltau, Addison came from a long and illustrious line of noteworthy Christians. He graduated from Wheaton College in 1949 and prepared for the ministry at Faith Theological Seminary, later earning a Th.M. degree from Calvin Seminary in 1966 and the Th.D. from Concordia Seminary in 1982. Leaving his pulpit in Tennessee, he labored as a missionary in Japan from 1953-1970, served as a professor at Reformed Bible College and at Covenant Theological Seminary, and has, since 1989, served on the pastoral staff of several churches in Florida. He is currently an associate pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Coral Springs, in Margate, Florida.

Words to Live By:
I suppose we could simply have stretched out the events of this twentieth day of November into the next six years with the six posts listed above, but it seemed good to explore some of the notable events and people for this date all at once. In that way, we behold the Lord’s providence of sovereignly governing both good and bad events on this day in Presbyterian history. James reminds us of the significance of one day when he asks and answers, “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” (James 1:14, ESV) To be sure, who among the people and events mentioned above ever wondered what else occurred on their day of November 20?  That is why all of us need to take the words of James to heart when he wrote in verse 15, “Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live  and do this or that.” (James 4:15 ESV)  Use this last biblical thought as a prayer today as you read this post, and venture out into your world.

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I’ve heard of Warrior Children, . . . but Kidnappers?

The Presbyterian was a long-standing periodical issued out of Philadelphia. The last solidly conservative editor of that journal was the Rev. Samuel G. Craig. When Craig was eased out of his post, he went on to establish the Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Company.

Some six years later, a new denomination was formed by theological conservatives who were leaving the mainline denomination known as the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA).  This new group chose to organize under the title “The Presbyterian Church of America. But the mother Church deemed that name too similar to its own. Or perhaps more accurately, the name “Presbyterian Church of America” had been one of the names under consideration in the early 1930’s, when the PCUSA and the United Presbyterian Church of North America were briefly engaged in merger talks.

So the PCUSA brought suit against the fledgling denomination that had formed in June of 1936. Before they had even met for their second General Assembly, the lawsuit was filed, and before another two years had passed, they concluded that they simply did not have the funds or the inclination to pursue the matter further through the courts. Thus the young denomination yielded and chose a new name, which they bear to this day: The Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

[One of several parallels, by the way, with the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), which initially took the name “National Presbyterian Church,” but which had to surrender that name to avoid a conflict]

So much for background (it takes patience to be a Presbyterian!). Now on to our story. As the lawsuit had been filed by the PCUSA, discussion ensued in the papers, as you would expect. One of the more interesting letters appeared in the October 29, 1936 issue of The Presbyterian. In this letter, a Mr. Robert C. McAdie told why he opposed the lawsuit brought by his own denomination. His letter is, if nothing else, entertaining, for Mr. McAdie certainly had a gift of expression. But it also provides, in the reading of it, a good, though brief, look at the issues at stake:—


Editor The Presbyterian:

In your issue of September 3, your readers are presented with the full outline of a “Text of Bill of Complaint Against the Presbyterian Church of America”! Sponsored by a committee of our leading ministers and elders, who claim to represent “all other officers and members of the said Presbyterian Church in the United States of America,” it seemed to me, as one of that great family, a wise precaution to give this somewhat portentiously worded “Complaint” a sufficiently careful study to either endorse or disavow a proceeding for which “all officers and members” are made responsible.

As a sort of “multum in parvo” outline of the forces and activities of the three Churches, Presbyterian, U.S.A., the United Presbyterian, and this latest intruder, the “Presbyterian Church of America,” it supplies much useful information in compact form, and for this I am properly grateful. But as a complaint on the part of our great denomination against the comparatively tiny organization, which somewhat egotistically demands the right to march under the obviously top-heavy title, “Presbyterian Church of America,” the assertions and charges embodied in the document give me an impression of either “Much Ado About Nothing,” of elephantine jitters caused by the presence of a mouse, or, even less complimentary spiritually, of an ecclesiastical vindictiveness which, having done its own best, or worst, now seeks an ally in secular law!

Thus our complainants emphasize at one point that, like the conies, this Machen following “are but a feeble folk,” since I read: “The organization and membership of the defendant Church at the present time is largely limited to a few individuals and churches located in Philadelphia County and adjacent areas” (since that writing, Southern California has hatched a Machen presbytery!) yet, if allowed to wear the magic panoply of the new name, “Presbyterian Church of America,” what dynamically expansive or conquering qualities these same complainants attribute to the few! “The similarity of the name of the defendant Church to that of the plaintiff Church will cause, and is intended to cause, irreparable injury and loss to the plaintiff Church”! What a welcome revelation of their own powers these words ought to convey to the ousted rebels!

But, one may ask, is this similarity of names, thus denounced and evidently feared, really any more than that of our Southern and Northern Churches, the U.S. and U.S.A.? These mean practically the same thing, yet in my sojourn down South I cannot recall seeing or hearing of Presbyterians who could not distinguish which from t’ other! But apparently if these Machenites disguise themselves in the ample folds of their chosen name, the present membership of the U.S.A. branch–and why not that of the U.S. branch also?–are fated, if we accept the dolorous outlook of the complainants, to develop an immediate mental collapse, and so become easy victims of Machen’s kidnappers! Not much of a compliment to the usual discriminating ability of Presbyterians!

One also notes how the complaint asserts that “they (Machen et al.) renounced their membership in the plaintiff Church”! That they also employed every means of retaining that membership, renouncing it only expulsion therefrom, is not even mentioned! Or would not the secular court be interested in the militant preliminaries to this establishment of a new Presbyterian organization?

On these grounds I object to any partnership in the complaint, but most of all because, as pointed out by Dr. Barnhouse, such an appeal to Caesar makes light of Paul’s solemn warning against airing Christian quarrels in secular courts. And if successful would it lessen by one iota the zeal of these battling opponents? Quite the contrary. Under some other name they would but redouble their attacks on their mother Church, which not only cast them out of her fold, but also sicked on to them the legal dogs of war. Prosecuted out of their Church, persecuted through secular aid beyond its ecclesiastical bounds; what a powerful incentive to fight!

-Robert C. McAdie, S.T.M.

Words to Live By:
…and fight they did. And so must we fight today—not with carnal weapons, but with spiritual—and wherever the Gospel is at stake. As Christians, we do not live for our own sake, for our own comfort, or for our own safety. We live for the glory of God. We live to promote and proclaim the glory of God in Jesus Christ His Son and our Savior.

Our copy of the above letter, as it appeared in The Presbyterian, is found in Scrapbook no. 5, in the Henry G. Welbon Manuscript Collection (see scanned image below). Mr. McAdie’s letter was also reproduced on the pages of The Presbyterian Guardian, in the November 14, 1936 issue.


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Time and Again, God Triumphs Over Our Sin

Attempts to reform the Mission Board of the Presbyterian Church, USA were led in part by some of the faculty and board members at Westminster Theological Seminary. When those efforts failed, it was on June 27th in 1933 that the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions (IBPFM) was organized and on October 17, 1933, its constitution was adopted and officers were elected: Rev. J. Gresham Machen serving as president, Rev. Merrill T. MacPherson as vice president, Rev. H. McAllister Griffiths as secretary, and Murray Forrest Thompson, Esq. as treasurer. The General Assembly of 1934 had put the issue rather bluntly, declaring that members of the IBPFM either were to resign or else face church discipline for violation of their ordination vows.

As new evidence kept coming forward, concerning continued modernism in the Board of Foreign Mission, more and more people made the decision to begin supporting the IBPFM. This support of the new board so worried the denomination that it became a major issue at the next general assembly held in Cleveland, Ohio, in May 1934. For one, remember that this was taking place during the depression, and charitable funds were especially tight. That reason is not offered to excuse what happened next, but it does help to explain it. Perhaps it was not surprising then that the 1934 General Assembly adopted a deliverance that stated that every member of the church was required by the constitution to support the missionary program of the church, comparable to the way that each member must take part in the Lord’s Supper.

The Assembly then mandated that each Presbytery was to take action against any of its members who were also members of the IBPFM. Thus the deliverance became known as “The Mandate” and in typical Presbyterian fashion, the consequences of that action unfolded slowly. Over the course of the following two years, about a dozen men and one woman were charged, tried and cast out of the Church. On March 29, 1935, Dr. J. Gresham was declared guilty and suspended from the ministry of the PCUSA, on March 29, 1935. His trial was a travesty, with all doctrinal evidence prohibited by the court. Dr. Roy T. Brumbaugh was tried in absentia. It was a sad conclusion to this chapter in the history of the Church, but one which led to new beginnings. As some of the old Puritans used to say, “God never removes one blessing, but what He gives a greater.”

Pictured below is a letter from the Rev. Walter Vail Watson, in which he mentions his discussions with Dr. Machen and sketches out what must have been some of the first outlines of the later formation of the IBPFM:—

Next, (and I realize this may be more difficult to read), is the text of the press release issued by Dr. Machen upon the official formation of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions, on October 17, 1933:—




A Prayer for Our Times:
Lord, give us honest, godly leaders who will do what is right, regardless of the cost to themselves. Give us leaders who, in all humility, fear You and who thus fear no man. And may we be a humble, repentant people capable of following such leaders, seeking Your glory in all that we say and do.

Images: The documents pictured above are from the J. Oliver Buswell, Jr. Manuscript Collection, preserved at the  PCA Historical Center.

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Jesus Christ is Lord over All of LIfe

William Brenton Greene, Jr., was born this day, August 16th, in 1854 in Providence, Rhode Island.

WBGreeneJrEducated at the College of New Jersey (Princeton University), and graduating there in 1876. he then worked as a teacher while preparing for the ministry at Princeton Theological Seminary, 1877-1880. Rev. Greene was ordained by the Presbytery of Boston (PCUSA) on 3 June 1880 and installed as pastor of the First Presbyterian church of Boston, where he served from 1880-1883. He next answered a call to serve as senior pastor of  the Tenth Presbyterian church, in Philadelphia, succeeding Dr. John DeWitt in that post and serving there from 1883-1892. Finally, he was then appointed to serve as the Stuart Professor of the Relations of Philosophy and Science to the Christian Religion, at the Princeton Theological Seminary, a post he held until 1903, after which he held the Chair of Apologetics and Christian Ethics, from 1903 until his death in 1928.  Among his many honors, he was awarded the Doctor of Divinity degree by the College of New Jersey in 1891.

[Note: The College of New Jersey was founded in 1746. The school’s name was then changed to Princeton University during its Sesquicentennial Celebration. in 1896. Particularly in earlier years, the school was commonly referred to as “Nassau,” “Nassau Hall,” “Princeton College,” or “Old North.”]

Upon Greene’s death in 1928, J. Gresham Machen wrote of him, “I loved Dr. Greene. He was absolutely true, when so many were not. He was always at Faculty and Presbytery, no matter how feeble he was. He was one of the best Christians I have ever known.”
[Stonehouse, J. Gresham Machen: A Biographical Memoir, p. 439.]

Dr. Greene is buried at the Swan Point Cemetery in Providence, Rhode Island.

Words to live by: Quoting from the inaugural address of Dr. William Breton Greene, he opened that address with these thoughtful words:

“A professorship in one of our theological seminaries is no ordinary trust. Its chief function is to teach and to train preachers of the Gospel. Because, therefore, it has “pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe,” the position of a theological professor must be as much more serious than that of the preacher as the work of the medical professor is than that of the physician. The theological teacher cannot fail largely to determine the spiritual health of all the congregations of his pupils.”

Perhaps you’ve never thought of it before now, but doesn’t Dr. Greene’s analysis prompt you to pray for those very seminary professors who train our candidates for the ministry?

Click here to read Dr. Greene’s inaugural address. “The Function of the Reason in Christianity.”

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Ideas & Actions Have Consequences

On this day, August 15th, in 1861, a group of pastors and ruling elders met in Atlanta to plan the division of a new denomination, splitting off from the Old School wing of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. Strictly speaking, the Southern Old School men did not divide over the matter of slavery. Rather, their point of division was the Gardiner Spring Resolutions. What follows is an account of how that division came about, written by the Rev. Moses D. Hoge, and found as chapter 22 in the volume, Presbyterians: A Popular Narrative… (1892):—

In May, 1861, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (Old School), which met in Philadelphia, adopted a paper in reference to the Civil War, which begun the month before. This paper became known as the Spring Resolutions, after the Rev. Gardiner Spring, pastor of the Brick Church in New York and the minister who brought these resolutions to the floor of that General Assembly. Three times these resolutions were put before the Assembly, and twice they failed of vote, but with some changes, passed on the third presentation. With the adoption of the Spring Resolutions, the Assembly undertook to decide for its whole constituency, North and South, a question upon which the most eminent statesmen had been divided in opinion from the time of the formation of the Constitution, namely, whether the ultimate sovereignty, the jus summi imperii, resided in the people as a mass, or in the people as they were originally formed into colonies and afterward into States.

Presbyterians in the South believed that this deliverance, whether true or otherwise, was one which the Church was not authorized to make, and that, in so doing, she had transcended her sphere and usurped the duties of the state. Their views upon this subject found expression in a quarter which relieves them of all suspicion of coming from an interested party. A protest against this action was presented by the venerable Charles Hodge, D.D., of Princeton Theological Seminary, and fifty-seven others who were members of that Assembly.

In this protest it was asserted, “that the paper adopted by the Assembly does decide the political question just stated, in our judgment, is undeniable. It not only asserts the loyalty of this body to the Constitution and the Union, but it promises in the name of all the churches and ministers whom it represents, to do all that in them lies to strengthen, uphold and encourage the Federal Government. It is, however, a notorious fact that many of our ministers and members conscientiously believe that the allegiance of the citizens of this country is primarily due to the States to which they respectively belong, and that, therefore, whenever any State renounces its connection with the United States, and its allegiance to the Constitution, the citizens of that State are bound by the laws of God to continue loyal to their State, and obedient to its laws. The paper adopted virtually declares, on the other hand, that the allegiance of the citizen is due to the United States, anything in the Constitution or laws of the several States to the contrary notwithstanding. The General Assembly in thus deciding a political question, and in making that decision practically a condition of Church membership, has, in our judgment, violated the Constitution of the Church, and usurped the prerogative of its Divine Master.”

Presbyterians in the South, coinciding in this view of the case, concluded that a separation from the General Assembly aforesaid was imperatively demanded, not in the spirit of schism, but for the sake of peace, and for the protection of the liberty with which Christ had made them free.

After the adoption of the Gardiner Spring Resolutions in May of 1861, Presbytery after Presbytery in the Southern States, feeling that by that act they had been exscinded, withdrew from the jurisdiction of the Assembly that had transcended its sphere and decided political questions. A conference of ministers and elders was held in Atlanta on August 15-17, 1861, and in response to a call thus issued the Assembly met.

Accordingly, ninety-three ministers and ruling elders, representing forty-seven Presbyteries, duly commissioned for that purpose, met in the city of Augusta, Georgia, on the 4th of December, 1861, and integrated in one body. The first act after the organization of that memorable Assembly was to designate a name for the now separated Church, and to declare its form and belief.

Something to Ponder:
The North/South division of the Old School Presbyterians did not happen in an historical vacuum. That brief comment above, “…feeling that by that act they had been exscinded,…” is an intriguing key. Could it be that the division of 1861 happened in part because of the division of 1837? In the division of 1837, the Old School Presbyterians unwittingly established a precedent when they exscinded four Synods which were predominantly New School. In making this observation, I am not arguing that they were right or wrong, but simply that ideas and actions have consequences. The overt exclusion of four Synods in 1837 was still a recent memory in 1861, and in that light it seems a more reasonable suspicion that now it was the Southern churches which were being excluded, whether overtly or not.

Our actions have consequences. Once you do something, it becomes easier to repeat that action. This is how habits are formed. This is how we learn. And this can be either good or bad. On the positive side of things, skills and abilities can be tuned to a fine pitch; all manner of tasks can be mastered. But, by allowing a first transgression, we can also become quite adept at sin. Instead, let us fear God and hate evil. Like Joseph, turn from sin at its first appearance, and run! Or, to return to our story, imagine how things might have turned out, had that first slave ship been refused access to our shores? What sort of nation would we be if a different precedent had been set from the start? We can’t undo history, but we can find forgiveness and mercy in Christ as our Lord and Savior.

[excerpted from Presbyterians: A Popular Narrative of their Origin, Progress, Doctrines, and Achievements, by Rev. Geo. P. Hays, D.D., LL.D. New York: J. A. Hill & Co., Publishers, 1892, pp. 483-486.]

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WelbonHG_lockedout On August 3, 1936, newspapers in and around Wilmington, Delaware ran the following article covering the closure of the Head-of-Christiana Presbyterian Church, where the Rev. Henry G. Welbon was pastor at the time.

Pastor Ignores Church Locking

Defies Presbytery In Church ‘Lockout’

Unfrocked Pastor Holds Former Pulpit

Rev. H.G. Welbon Uses Own Key at Head-of-Christiana.
Has Services in Spite of Ban.

The Rev. Henry G. Welbon, fundamentalist pastor recently unfrocked by the Presbytery of New Castle for his refusal to bow to that body in the fundamentalist-modernist conflict, found himself locked out of Head-of-Christiana church when he went there yesterday to conduct Sunday services.

After consulting an attorney, he opened his church with his own key and conducted services as usual, ignoring a notice that had been tacked on the door by four trustees forbidding the use of the building except with their permission.

The notice was also signed by a committee of four established by the Presbytery to act as the church Session. The four trustees are a majority of the board who side with the Presbytery.

The trustees acted to exercise their authority over the church property, now in dispute between Presbytery and the seceding group led at Head-of-Christiana by Mr. Welbon.

“It is now up to this (seceding) group to prove their right of possession of the church and their right to enter it,” one of the four trustees said today.

The notice text was: “To whom it may concern: We the undersigned members of the Board of Trustees of Head-of-Christiana Church and the committee appointed by the Presbytery of New Castle to exercise the function of the session do hereby declare this church building to be closed and to be opened and used only by special permission until such time as this notice is withdrawn.”

Mr. Welbon said he acted upon advice of his attorney in opening the church. His attorney, Mr. Welbon said, stated that so long as Mr. Welbon had the key he could not be locked out. The four trustees obtained a key which they believed to be the only one to the church, from the sexton’s home.

*    *    *    *

Dating back to legal cases set down in the 19th-century, local church property in the PCUSA legally belonged to the PCUSA Presbyteryies Thus, when conservative Presbyterians left the PCUSA in the 1930’s, in almost every case they lost their church buildings.
The loss of those buildings was a substantial setback, particularly in the midst of an economic depression. So this was one major reason for the slow initial growth of both the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the Bible Presbyterian Church, as leaving congregations had to start over and finance new buildings. That in turn may have been one very pragmatic reason why more conservatives did not leave the denomination.
By contrast, when the Presbyterian Church in America was formed in 1973, certain legal precedents had been established in the 1960s  which allowed most of the leaving congregations to retain their property. So these PCA congregations were on a better  footing to begin with, plus it can be argued that the economic times were better. There were substantial costs of leaving in both the ’30’s and the ’70’s, though the costs were somewhat different in each instance.

Words to Live By:
The church is not a building. Not a physical building, anyway. The  visible church consists of all those people and their children that have entered into a covenant with the one true God by way of His Son and the sacrifice that He paid on behalf of a chosen people.

“So then you are no longer dstrangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22, ESV)

The Notice pinned to the church’s front door:


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The Death of a Saint

finleySA year ago this day, we first wrote of the Rev. Dr. Samuel Finley, who served as President of the College of New Jersey from 1761 until his death in 1766. The following account of Dr. Finley’s death taken, with slight editing, from William Buell Sprague’s Annals of the American Pulpit :—

Dr. Finley’s unremitted application to the duties of his office began, after a while, to perceptibly impair his health, and an obstruction of the liver was induced, which proved beyond the reach of medical skill. when he found himself seriously ill, he went to Philadelphia to avail himself of the prescriptions of the best physicians there; but he seems to have had little apprehension that his disease was to have a fatal issue;—for he remarked to his friends,—”If my work is done, I am ready—I do not desire to live a day longer than I can work for God. But I cannot think this is the case yet. God has much for me to do before I depart hence.”

About a month before he died, Samuel Finley’s physician expressed the opinion that his recovery was hopeless. Upon hearing this, Dr. Finley seemed entirely resigned to the Divine will, and from that time until his death, he was employed in the immediate preparation for his departure. On being told by one of his physicians that, according to present appearances, he could live but a few days more, he lifted up his eyes and exclaimed, “Then welcome, Lord Jesus.”

On the Sabbath preceding his death, he was informed by his brother-in-law, Dr. Clarkson, who was one of his physicians, that there was a decisive change in his condition, indicating that the end was near. “Then,” Finley said, “may the Lord bring me near Himself. I have been waiting with a Canaan hunger for the promised land. I have often wondered that God suffered me to live. I have more wondered that He called me to be a minister of His Word. He has often afforded me much strength, which, though I have often abused, He returned in mercy. O faithful are the promises of God! O that I could see Him as I have seen Him heretofore in his sanctuary! Although I have earnestly desired death, as the hireling pants for the evening shade, yet will I wait all the days of my appointed time. I have often struggled with principalities and powers, and have been brought almost to despair—Lord, let it suffice!”

“I can truly say I have loved the service of God. I know not in what language to speak of my own unworthiness. I have been undutiful; I have honestly endeavoured to act for God, but with much weakness and corruption.” He then lay down and continued to speak in broken sentences.

“A Christian’s death,” said he, “is the best part of his experience. The Lord has made provision for the whole way; provision for the soul and for the body. O that I could recollect Sabbath blessings. Blessed be God, eternal rest is at hand; Eternity is but long enough to enjoy my God. This has animated me in my secret studies; I was ashamed to take rest here. O that I could be filled with the fulness of God,—that fulness that fills heaven.”

Upon awaking the next morning, he exclaimed, “O what a disappointment I have met with—I expected this morning to have been in Heaven!”

In the afternoon of this day, the Rev. Elihu Spencer called to see him, and said,—”I have come, dear Sir, to see you confirm by facts the Gospel you have been preaching; pray, Sir, how do you feel?” To which he replied,—”Full of triumph. I triumph through Christ. Nothing clips my wings, but the thoughts of my dissolution being prolonged. O that it were tonight! My very soul thirsts for eternal rest.”

Mr. Spencer asked him what he saw in eternity to excite such vehement desires. “I see,” said he, “the eternal love and goodness of God; I see the fulness of the Mediator. I see the love of Jesus. O to be dissolved, and to be with Him. I long to be clothed with the complete righteousness of Christ.” He then desired Mr. Spencer to pray with him before they parted, and said,—”I have gained the victory over the devil. Pray to God to preserve me from evil—to keep me from dishonouring His great name in this critical hour, and to support me with His presence in my passage through the valley of the shadow of death.”

He spent the rest of the evening in taking leave of his friends, and in addressing affectionate counsels and exhortations to those of his children who were present. He would frequently cry out,—”Why move the tardy hours so slow?” The next day brought him the release for which he had panted so long. He was no longer able to speak; but a friend having desired him to indicate by a sign whether he still continued to triumph, he lifted his hand, and articulated,—”Yes.” At nine o’clock in the morning, he fell into a profound sleep, in which he continued, without changing his position, till about one, when his spirit gently passed away to its eternal home.

During his whole illness, he manifested the most entire submission to the Divine will, and a full assurance of entering into rest. His death occurred on the 17th of July, 1766, in the fifty-first year of his age. It was the intention of Dr. Finley’s friends to carry his remains to Princeton for burial, but the extreme heat of the weather forbade their doing it, and he was buried by the side of his friend, Gilbert Tennent, in the Second Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia.

Words to Live By:
Precious in the sight of the LORD Is the death of His godly ones.” (Psalm 116:15, NASB)

So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom. (Psalm 90:12, KJV)

Lord, teach to number our days, that we may live out our lives in the fear of the Lord. Deliver us from evil; keep us from sin; and may we live each day looking to You for our every need, knowing that You will provide, both in this life, and in the life to come. May the Lord Jesus Christ be our All in all.

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greenAshbelDuring the time that Dr. Ashbel Green was serving as the president of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University), there was a revival, which occurred during the winter of 1814. Dr. Green wrote a Report on the matter for the school’s Trustees, titled “Revival of Religion in the College,” and this Report can be found in Green’s Autobiography, as Appendix H, pp. 619-622.

As important as that Report is, what is of greater importance are the questions and counsels that Dr. Green provided the students during the time of this revival. That is the material presented in our post this Lord’s Day, and I pray you will find it useful.

These Questions and Counsels were Green’s response and direction, offered to the students. As noted in preface to his advice, “The estimate made by the religious public of the instructions given during the revival by Dr. Green, was afterwards shown in their being published by the Tract Society in the form of a tract, entitled ‘Questions and Counsels given by Dr. Green.’ It is believed that the ministry have found few of that society’s excellent publications more useful in seasons of revival than this discriminating and judicious tract of Dr. Green.”

If I may make the suggestion, after reading this, you may find it profitable to make a copy to insert in your Bible, for future reference and reminder.

Who hope that a work of saving grace has been wrought upon their hearts.

1. Have you seen yourself to be, by nature and by practice, a lost and helpless sinner? Have you not only seen the sinfulness of particular acts of transgression, but also that your heart is the seat and fountain of sin?—That in you, naturally, there is no good thing? Has a view of this led you to despair of help from yourself? To see that you must be altogether indebted to Christ for salvation, and to the gracious aid of the Holy Spirit for strength and ability rightly to perform any duty?
2. On what has your hope of acceptance with God been founded? On your reformation? on your sorrow for your sins? on your prayers? on your tears? on your good works and religious observances? Or has it been on Christ alone, as your all in all? Has Christ ever appeared very precious to you? Do you mourn that he does not appear more so? Have you sometimes felt great freedom to commit your soul to him? In doing this (if you have done it) has it been, not only to be delivered from the punishment due to your sins, but also from the power, pollution, dominion, and existence of sin in your soul?
3. As far as you know yourself, do you hate, and desire to be delivered from all sin, without any exception of a favourite lust? Do you pray much to be delivered from sin? Do you watch against it, and against temptation to it? Do you strive against it, and in some good degree get the victory over it? Have you so repented of it as to have your soul really set against it?
4. Have you counted the cost of following Christ, or of being truly religious? That it will cut you off from vain amusements, from the indulgence of your lusts, and from a sinful conformity to the world? That it may expose you to ridicule and contempt, possibly to more serious persecution? In view of all these things, are you willing to take up the cross, and to follow Christ, whithersoever he shall lead you? Is it your solemn purpose, in reliance on his grace and aid, to cleave to him, and to his cause and people, to the end of life?
5. Do you love holiness? Do you love a holy God, and because he is holy? Do you earnestly desire to be more and more conformed to God, and to his holy law? To bear more and more the likeness of your Redeemer? Do you seek, and sometimes find, communion with your God and Saviour?
6. Are you resolved, in God’s strength, to endeavour conscientiously to perform your whole duty—to God, to your neighbour, and to yourself? Do you perform common and relative duties conscientiously, as part of the duty which you owe to God?
7. Do you make conscience of secret prayer daily? Do you sometimes not feel a backwardness to this duty? Do you at other times feel a great delight in it? Have you a set time, and place, and order of exercise, for performing this duty?
8. Do you daily read a portion of the whole Scriptures, in a devout manner? Do you love to read the Bible? Do you ever perceive a sweetness in the truths of holy Scripture? Do you find them adapted to your necessities, and see, at times, a wonderful beauty, excellence, and glory in God’s word? Do you make it the man of your counsel, and endeavour to have both your heart and life conformed to its doctrines and requisitions?
9. Have you ever attempted to covenant with God? To give yourself away to him, solemnly and irrevocably, hoping for acceptance through Christ alone; and taking God, in Christ, as the covenant God, and satisfying portion of your soul?
10. Does the glory of God ever appear to you as the first, greatest, and best of all objects? Do you desire to promote the glory of God, as the chief object of life?
11. Do you feel a love to mankind—such as you did not feel before you became religious? Have you a great desire that the souls of men should be saved, by being brought to a genuine faith and trust in the Redeemer? Do you love God’s people with a peculiar attachment—because they bear their Saviour’s image, and because they love and pursue the objects, and delight in the exercises, which are most pleasing and delightful to yourself? Do you, from your heart, forgive all your personal enemies, and refuse to cherish or entertain any sentiments of hatred or revenge? If you have injured any person, have you made reparation; or are you ready and willing to make it?
12. Do you feel it to be very important to adorn religion, by a holy, exemplary, amiable, and blameless walk and conversation. Do you fear to bring a reproach on the cause of Christ? Does this appear to you extremely dreadful? Are you afraid of backsliding, and of being left to return to a state of carelessness and indifference in religion?
13. Do you desire and endeavour to grow in grace, and in the knowledge of Christ your Saviour, more and more? Are you willing to sit at his feet as a little child, and to submit your reason and understanding, implicitly, to his teaching; imploring his Spirit to guide you into all necessary truth, to save you from all fatal errors, to enable you to receive the truth in the love of it, and to transform you, more and more, into a likeness of himself?

1. Remember that these questions are intended to point your attention to subjects of inquiry the most important. Do not, therefore, content yourself with a careless or cursory reading of them. Read and deliberate, and examine yourself, closely, on the questions under each head; and let your heart be lifted up to God, while you are considering each particular question, in earnest desires that he may show you the very truth. You cannot ordinarily go over all these questions at one time. Divide them, therefore, and take one part at one time, and another at another. But try and go over the whole in the course of a week; and do this every week for some months. When you find yourself doubtful or deficient in any point, let it not discourage you; but note down that point in writing, and bend the attention of your mind to it, and labour and pray till you shall have made the attainment which will enable you to answer clearly. It is believed that you cannot fail to see how each question ought to be answered.
2. Remember that secret prayer, reading the word of God, watchfulness, and self-examination, are the great means of preserving comfort in religion, and of growing in grace. In proportion as you are exact and faithful in these, such, usually, will be your inward peace, and the safety of your state. Unite them all together, and never cease to practise them while you live. Think often of the character of Enoch, and try to walk with God. Read Mason’s little book on Self-knowledge; I recommend it as excellent.
3. Besides the Bible, have constantly in reading, at your leisure hours, some author of known piety and excellence. Read Owen’s works, Baxter’s Saints’ Rest, Doddridge’s works, Watts’s works, Witherspoon’s works, Newton’s works, Scott’s works, Venn’s Whole Duty of Man, The Christian Observer, &c. &c.
4. Do not suppose that any evidence which, at present, you may think you possess, of a gracious state, will release you from the necessity of maintaining a constant vigilance in time to come; nor from repeated examinations and trials of yourself even to the end of life. Many marks and evidences of a gracious state are set down by pious writers. But they must all come to this—to ascertain what is your prevalent temper and character—whether, on the whole, you are increasing in sanctification or not? If you are, you may be comforted; if not, you have cause to be alarmed. It is only he that endureth to the end that shall be saved.
5. I think it of very great importance to warn you not to imagine that true religion is confined to the closet or to the church; even though you apprehend that you have great comfort and freedom there. Freedom and comfort there are, indeed, most desirable; but true religion reaches to every thing. It alters and sweetens the temper. It improves the manners. It goes into every duty, relation, station, and situation of life. If you have true religion, you will have a better spirit, you will be better sons, better scholars, better friends, better members of society, and more exemplary in the discharge of every duty; as the sure consequence of this invaluable possession. And if your religion does not produce these effects, although you may talk of inward comforts, and even of raptures, you have great reason to fear that the whole is a delusion, and that the root of the matter is not in you. “Herein (said the Saviour,) is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit, so shall ye be my disciples.”
6. Be careful to avoid a gloomy, and to cherish a cheerful temper. Be habitually cheerful; but avoid levity. Mirth and laughter are not always sinful; but let your indulgence in them be clearly innocent, not very frequent and never of long continuance. Be very humble. Be not talkative. Before experienced Christians be a hearer, rather than a talker. Try, in every way, however, to promote religion among your relatives and friends. Win them to it, by your amiable temper and exemplary deportment. “Flee youthful lusts.” Shun every excitement of them. Guard against dissipation: it extinguishes piety. Be not disconcerted by ridicule and reproach. Your Saviour bore much of these for you. Think of this, and be ashamed of nothing so much as being ashamed of him. Trust in his protection, live to his praise, and you will spend eternity in his blissful presence.

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