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The interchurch relations committees of six denominations met together on October 25 -26 [1974] in Pittsburgh, Penna. Represented were the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, Christian Reformed Church, Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Presbyterian Church in America, Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod, and Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America. The joint group also invited the Reformed Church, U.S. (Eureka Classis) to participate in later such meetings.

A sub-committee was established to prepare a plan for cooperation among the respective churches, drawn from proposals suggested in the joint meeting. Such a plan would be presented to the full body for possible recommendation to the denominations themselves.

Among the proposals made was one urging the various churches to cooperate in world-wide relief services; the Christian Reformed Church has the most extensive such service now. Another proposal recommended publication of a directory of all the co-operating churches.

It was also proposed that there be a federation of Presbyterian and Reformed churches that would include coordination of agencies and the holding of consultative assemblies. The ultimate goal of union into one church was urged.

The Presbyterian Guardian, 43:10 (December 1974): 167.

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Our post today focuses on the life and ministry of the Rev. Francis McFarland, with an obituary published on the pages of THE CHRISTIAN OBSERVER late in 1871.

The Christian Observer, 50.46 (15 November 1871), p. 2, columns 5-6.


mcfarland_francisThe life, labors and character of this eminently useful servant of Christ, whose death was briefly noticed in our columns three weeks since, are worthy of a memorial which will long be cherished as a rich legacy to the Church. The sketch presented in the following paragraphs contains the principal incidents of his life, given by the editor of the Central Presbyterian:

“He was born in the south of Ireland, in the province of Ulster, in January, 1788. When he was five years old, in 1793, his parents emigrated to this country and settled in Western Pennsylvania. He was graduated at Jefferson and Washington College in 1818, and shortly after entered Princeton Theological Seminary, where he was a fellow-student with Rev. Drs. Charles Hodge, Wm. B. Sprague, Joseph Smith and Bishop Johns. In a communication written when he was more than eighty years of age, he says:

‘I regard it as one of the kindest dispensations of Divine Providence towards me, that I was led to that institution where I enjoyed the esteem of those wise and holy men, Dr. Archibald Alexander and Dr. Samuel Miller, then the only Professors in the institution, and who honored me with their friendship as long as they lived.’

He was licensed to preach the gospel by the Presbytery of New Brunswick in October, 1819; and in 1829 he was appointed a missionary by the Assembly’s Board to labor in Indiana and Missouri. He then spent three months preaching to the First Presbyterian church, Brooklyn, N.Y., then recently organized. While laboring there, he was (August 1, 1822) ordained sine titulo, by the Presbytery of New Brunswick. In the fall of that year he had a severe attack of typhus fever accompanied with hemorrhage from the lungs, in consequence of which, as soon as partially recovered, he was advised by his physician to travel to the South on horseback.

Accordingly, he proceeded to Staunton, Va., “where he was the guest of that noble Christian gentleman, and eminent physician, Dr. Addison Waddell, for whom he ever cherished the highest regard.” His health being greatly improved, he was invited to preach in the church of Bethel, then vacant. After supplying the pulpit for three Sabbaths, he received a unanimous call from that congregation to become their pastor. This call he accepted, and in the year following was duly installed, the Rev. Dr. Ruffner preaching the sermon, and Rev. Dr. Speece delivering the “charge.”

He resigned his pastoral office to enter upon the duties of Secretary of Education, in March, 1836, to which he was apppointed the preceding year. He continued in the services of this Board, which were highly appreciated, till August, 1841, when, having been called to his old charge, he returned to his home among the people of the Bethel congregation. As the Presbyterian remarks, “He was for many years a man of very infirm health. His afflictions from asthma was t times very distressing. He seldom knew the luxury of uninterrupted sleep, the only posture of rest was in a chair. It was a constant wonder to his friends that long ago both body and mind did not sink under the pressure of disease. But in the midst of growing infirmities his labors were continued till about five years ago, they were relieved by the settlement of the Rev. Jas. Murray as collegiate pastor. Having lived to welcome this brother (between whom and himself there was a relation of constant harmony and affection) his pastoral work ceased. He was almost constantly confined to his home for years past, and much of the time to his couch. About a year ago, Mrs. McFarland was called to the heavenly home before him. He most patiently waited all his appointed days tills his own change should come.

“His end, which he had been long expecting, was in ‘perfect peace,’ and was announced by the Rev. Mr. Murray in a brief note written on October 10, 1871. ‘He breathed his last this morning about five o’clock, in his sleep, in the 84th year of his age. Thus, he was spared all consciousness of the death struggle, and indeed all pain in the act of dying. For the last few weeks his decline has been more marked and rapid, and was attended with much suffering; but in all of it he was not only sustained by the grace of God, so as to endure it without murmuring, but was enabled to rejoice in God his Saviour, with a full assurance of a blessed immortality beyond the grave.’

“The sketch of Dr. McFarland’s life here given, is of necessity very imperfect. Having known him for nearly fifty years, and an intimate friendship for about thirty, our feelings plead for a much fuller expression than the space suitable for it permits. The aged and good minister of Jesus Christ was no common man. He was a man of great worth, and has been so esteemed wherever known. His long life was not only without a stain, but was adorned with gifts and graces which mark it as one to be had in everlasting remembrance.

“In the councils of the Church it would not be easy to point out his superior. His eminent piety, the uncommon soundness of his judgment, his remarkable prudence, and conciliatory spirit—though none more inflexibly firm and true to principle—gave his opinions great weight from the Church Session up to the General Assembly. To this last judicatory he was more frequently sent than any other member of Lexington Presbytery; and in the Assembly of 1856, having been chosen as the Moderator, he presided over its deliberations with a dignity and skill not only satisfactory to all, but which excited general admiration.

Words to Live By:
Noting that Rev. McFarland was born in Ireland in 1788 and emigrated to the United States in 1793, his life at that point makes for an interesting comparison with that of the Rev. Alexander McLeod who was born in Ireland in 1774 and who emigrated here in the 1790s. McLeod being a bit older, remembered the bitter lessons of Irishmen being enslaved by the English, and so as a young pastor, spoke out against the enslavement of blacks. In contrast, McFarland, coming to this country as a child, may not have been raised with that historical awareness of his Irish heritage, and later taking up a pastorate in Virginia, he became a committed advocate of the Southern Confederate cause. We can only assume his views on slavery followed suit. Had he remained in the north, would he have had those same views? Perhaps, for  we readily admit that sin knows no geographical boundaries. Moreover, we know that even true Christians can be decidedly wrong about things, be they political, social, economic, or other. Most people, Christians included, tend to mirror the views of friends and close associates. The man or woman who can stand against the overwhelming sympathies of the crowd is a rare individual indeed. Don’t be so brazen as to think you can be that rare person, but do make every effort to be rooted and grounded in the Scriptures. With fear and trembling, make every effort to live out the Scriptures and to live above the prevailing winds of culture and the times, with your eyes fixed on Christ Jesus as Savior and Lord. May God grant you the mercy and strength to live out His will, regardless of what society may bring your way.

Some Scripture References on Choosing Your Friends Wisely: Psalm 1:1 and 26:4-5; Proverbs 11:14; 12:26; 13:20; 16:29; 22:24-25; 24:6; 27:6; 28:23; I Cor. 5:11 and 15:33.

Image source: Portrait as found in The Presbyterian Magazine, 1856.

For Further Study:
Papers of Francis McFarland, 1815-1871, Archival Material – 2 reels : microfilm; 35mm.

Abstract: Collection contains 23 diaries and account books and 25 manuscripts, 1821-1864. With these are an analytical outline by W. Edwin Hemphill and two brief biographies of McFarland. The collection contains student writings; notebooks from lectures at Princeton Theological Seminary; diaries of missionary trips into “the pines” of Southeasern N.J. and the midwest, including contacts with the Cherokee Indians; attendance at General Assemblies; expense accounts; politics in Washington, D.C. (1832); Philadelphia; meteorological observations; his church and life in Augusta County, Va., the Civil War including the splitting of the Presbyterian Church, deaths of his sons, and religion in the Confederate camps.

The collection contains student writings; notebooks from lectures at Princeton Theological Seminary; diaries of missionary trips into “the pines” of Southeasern N.J. and the midwest, including contacts with the Cherokee Indians; attendance at General Assemblies; expense accounts; politics in Washington, D.C…

See for more information.

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Wise Words from the Past

It was at about this time–one date should suffice as well as another in this case–that on or about January 4, 1818 the first issue of the Virginia Evangelical and Literary Magazine made its appearance. Designed as a monthly periodical and with the Rev. Dr. John Holt Rice [1777-1831] serving as its editor, the magazine sought to address a wide range of material, religious, literary and scientific. Rice was not alone in the effort, having the assistance of Moses Hoge, president of Hampden-Sydney College; the Rev. John D. Blair of Richmond; and George A. Baxter, president of Washington College, Lexington, VA. As was so typical of the first half of the nineteenth century, the authors of the various articles typically wrote anonymously and often under pseudonyms. Dr. Conrad Speece, for instance, employed the name Melancthon, and Dr. John Matthews used the initials N.S. But the bulk of the work rested on the shoulders of Dr. Rice, and so the credit for this now great resource on the religious history of Virginia is largely his. The final issue of the periodical was in December of 1828, and Dr. Rice died just a few years later.

In the introduction to that first issue in 1818, Dr. Rice set down the high Christian standard which would guide all discussion on the pages of his journal. His words set a goal we would do well to imulate even now in our own discussions:—

The exposition which we shall give, in the course of the work, of these doctrines, and of others intimately connected with them, will be modified by our peculiar views; yet it will be our constant endeavor not to overrate any thing unessential to salvation; and to set up no tests of piety, which are not established in the holy scriptures. We have been taught to call no man master upon earth. Fathers and Reformers are esteemed by us as pious, and sometimes able men—but after all, mere men, whose opinions may be freely questoned, and ought always to be tried by the standard of revealed truth. The Bible is the only inspired book in the world, and to its authority alone do we pay implicit submission. Nevertheless, we do not depreciate creeds and confessions of faith; and, although we do not consider ourselves as pledged to vindicate every expression to be found in any thing of man’s devising; yet we do believe that the system of doctrine taught in the holy scriptures, is contained in the Confession of Faith of that Church to which we have the happiness to belong. Yet, while we firmly maintain that “form of sound words” which we have adopted, we shall, as conductors of a religious work, endeavor continually to imitate that example of liberality, and brotherly kindness, which has been displayed by our predecessors, and especially by those who, under God, were the founders of the Presbyterian Church in the United States.

In illustration of this last remark, we shall offer a few quotations from the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in the U. States:—“All saints that are united to Jesus Christ, their head, by his spirit and by faith, have fellowship with him in his graces, sufferings, death, resurrection, and glory : and being united to one another in love, they have communion in each other’s gifts and graces, and are obliged to the performance of such duties, public and private, as do conduce to their mutual good, both in the inward and outward man.—Saints, by profession, are bound to maintain an holy fellowship and communion in the worship of God, and in performing such other spiritual services as tend to their mutual edification; as also in relieving each other in outward things, according to their several abilities and necessities. Which communion, as God offereth opportunity, is to be extended unto all those who, in every place, call upon the name of the Lord Jesus.”–chap. xxvi. sec. 1, 2. The persons designated in this place, as saints by profession, it may be remarked, are elsewhere described as “those who profess the true religion.” In another part of the same work, we are taught to believe “that there are truths and forms, with respect to which men of good characters and principles may differ; and in all these, it is the duty of private Christians and societies to exercise mutual forbearance towards each other.” (See par. 342, Introduction to Form of Government, sec. 5.) It is in this spirit that we purpose to conduct all discussions concerning doctrine and discipline in our Magazine.

It is not, and we wish it to be distinctly understood, our object to attack others; but as we can, to explain to our readers the doctrines held, and the discipline maintained by us. And this for two purposes, both, as we think, laudable. The one to afford instruction to the members of the society to which we belong; the other to let the pious of different communions see how nearly we agree with them in fundamental doctrines. It is not truth of vital importance which, for the most part divides Christians; but questions about modes and forms. In the beginning of the Reformation, the Lutherans and the Reformed Churches differed as they differ now, yet they held communion with each other. And even among the Reformed Churches, there were diversities of discipline and mode of worship, yet no breach of brotherly kindness. Calvin and Knox, Cranmer and Ridley, and others of the same stamp, acknowledged each other as brethren, and employed their talents and zeal in defence of the common faith. So ought it to be now. So may it be soon!

[emphasis added]

Words to Live By:

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.—Ephesians 4:11-16, NIV.

Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you.—2 Timothy 1:13-14, NASB.

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Earliest Inklings of a Long Discussion

It was on this day, December 17th, in 1840, that James Henley Thornwell wrote of his intention to address an issue which would then be debated in the Presbyterian Church for the next twenty years.

Readers will please consider the following as an initial dipping of the toe in some very deep waters. Students of American Presbyterian history will (or should) know something of the famous “Board Debates” of the 19th-century. All others will no doubt be suitably bored to tears. 😉

The Board Debates began in earnest in 1841 and continued on until their culmination in the famous debate between Thornwell and Hodge on the floor of the General Assembly in 1860. By some accounts, the debate continued on for another few decades at least. These Debates were essentially a leftover or unaddressed issue that resulted from the 1837 split of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. into Old School and New School factions. That split had occurred for a number of reasons, but the heart of the matter lay in the 1801 Plan of Union, whereby Congregationalists and Presbyterians worked in concert to plant churches throughout the rapidly expanding western territories. That association between the two denominations soured when the heterodox New Haven Theology began to spread first among Congregationalists and subsequently among Presbyterians.

To see the Board Debates sketched out, click here. For a thorough examination of the Board Debates, see Kenneth J. Foreman, Jr.’s doctoral dissertation
, The Debate on the Administration of Missions Led by James Henley Thornwell in the Presbyterian Church, 1839-1861.

The following is an excerpt from Chapter 16 of The Life & Letters of James H. Thornwell (1875), by Benjamin M. Palmer, pertaining to the Board DebatesNote too Dr. Palmer’s aside concerning both Thornwell’s temper and his prevailing humility:—

thornwell02It has been stated, in a preceding chapter, that most of the discussions in which Dr. Thornwell was engaged, were a sort of remainder from the original controversy by which the Church was rent, in 1837-1838. The first that emerged into view was the discussion about Boards. During the period when the Church was brought under a species of vassalage to Congregationalism, the great National Societies, which usurped her functions, conducted their operations by the agency of Boards. The Church had become familiar with that mode of action; and when the effectual blow was struck for her emancipation, this was supposed to be fully accomplished, when these national organizations were disowned. The great principle upon which the argument turned, that the Church, in her organized form, must do her own work, was supposed to be satisfied, when Boards exactly analogous were established by the Church herself, as the agents by whom her will was to be carried out. It could not be long, however, before it was perceived that the above-named cardinal principle must be extended further: that a Board, consisting of many members, distributed over a large territory, to whom her evangelistic functions were remitted, did not satisfy the idea of the Church acting in her own capacity, and under the rules which the Constitution prescribed for her guidance. Dr. Thornwell was one of those who planted themselves firmly against their continuance in the Church. It is not the business of the biographer to discuss his views, but only to afford him the opportunity of presenting them. It may be remarked, however, that he was not opposed to combined or united action on the part of the Church, but only insisted that the central agency should be simply executivethe mere instrument by which the Assembly acts, and not an agent standing in the place of the Assembly, and acting for it. The first occasion on which he publicly developed his views was at the meeting of the Synod of South Carolina and Georgia; where a stiff debate was held upon the principles involved, and in which the Rev. Thomas Smyth, D. D., of Charleston, S. C, was his chief antagonist. An incident is related of this debate, so characteristic of the man, that it deserves to be recorded. In the heat of the discussion, he suffered himself to be borne beyond the bounds of strict propriety. The old spirit of invective and sarcasm, which later years so perfectly subdued, manifested itself in expressions a little too scornful of his opponent, and the impression was not pleasant upon the house. It so happened that his speech closed exactly at the hour of recess at noon, and there was no opportunity for rejoinder. Immediately upon re-assembling, he arose and apologised in handsome terms for the discourtesy into which he had been betrayed, and declared his profound esteem for the learning, ability, and piety of his adversary. It was done so spontaneously, and with such evident sincerity, that criticism was completely disarmed; and there was a universal feeling of admiration for the magnanimity and courage which could so fully redeem a fault.

Words to Live By:
Thornwell’s views derived from a core principle—the idea that God is sovereign over His Church. His sovereignty is manifest in doctrine, in worship, and in polity or governance. In each of these three aspects of the Church, God has, in the Scriptures, revealed His sovereign will for the Church. We have no right to invent doctrine, we have no right to invent ways to worship Him, and we have no right to introduce structures and practices for the operation of His Church, other than what is revealed in His Word. That in sum is, I think, a fairly accurate summary of the heart of Thornwell’s system of thought. Others may disagree with him, but you have to admire Thornwell for never having backed away from his convictions.

Never mock a man for his studied convictions. If someone has put a lot of time, study and thought into carefully weighing a matter, then they at least deserve your respect, even if you disagree with them. If you must mock anyone at all, reserve your mockery for those who give little thought to a matter yet come down hard on one side or the other of an issue. Rash conclusions deserve to be belittled. Careful students, on the other hand, are in short supply and should be valued, wherever we find them.

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pattonFLFrances Landey Patton [22 February 1843 – 25 November 1932] was certainly coming up in the world! This native of the Bermuda Island had pastored three churches, beginning in 1865, prior to his being installed in 1873 as professor of didactic and polemic theology at the Presbyterian Seminary of the Northwest [later renamed McCormick Theological Seminary]. Then in 1881, installed as professor of systematic theology at the Princeton Theological Seminary. Then, in 1888, he was installed as president of The College of New Jersey, and it was during his tenure that the school was renamed Princeton University, in 1896. He served as president of the school until 1902, when he was succeeded by Woodrow Wilson. Patton then became president of the Princeton Theological Seminary, and served in that capacity from 1902 until his retirement in 1913.

Patton was a thorough proponent of the historic Princeton position, which admitted no novelty in the sacred theology. He opposed modernism and the higher criticism. When in 1906 J. Gresham Machen began as an instructor at the Seminary, Dr. Patton proved to be a great influence on Machen. Later, in 1926, when Machen was nominated to take the chair of apologetics and ethics, Patton wrote in support of Machen’s bid for that position.

The following brief quote comes from Dr. Patton’s address on the occasion of his inauguration, on this day, October 27, 1881, as professor of systematic theology at the Princeton Theological Seminary. With these closing words, Patton presents a clear and summary analysis of the choice confronting the world in the modern era:—

patton_1881_inaugurationThe question of the hour is not whether God is the logical correlative of our consciousness of moral obligation; nor whether happiness or holiness is the end of life; nor whether conscience is intuitive or developed out of a “strong sense of avoidance.” It is not expressed in the utilitarianism of Mill, or the altruism of Spencer. It does not reveal itself in the paradoxes of Sidgwick, or the transcendentalism of Bradley.

It is the question whether there can be any guarantee for the purity of home, or the stability of the social organism under a philosophy that makes man an automaton. And if, as Mr. Frederick Harrison says, the present age is “ the great assize of all religion,” it looks as if the time had come for the trial of the issue. We have had enough of demurrers and continuances, enough of answers and replications, enough of rejoinders and surrejoinders. The time has come when men must face the question of the possibility of morals. They must decide between a metaphysic that leads to an absolute vacuum in knowledge, absolute irresponsibility in morals, absolute mechanism in life, and a metaphysic that will secure the separateness, the sovereignty, the morality, the immortality of the soul.

With the soul assured, the way to God is plain. And if God is a revelation of God may be. With the possibility of a revelation conceded, the proofs are sufficient, And with a proved revelation before us it is easy to understand that in God we live and move and have our being; that the truth of history has been,the unfolding of His purpose; that the order of nature is the movement of His mind; that the work of the philosopher is to rethink his thought; that Christianity is the solution of all problems ; that the blood of Christ removes the blot of sin; that the Church is the flower of humanity; that the incarnation of the Logos is God’s great achievement; that Jesus is the brightness of His Father’s glory, and the express image of His person; that in Him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, and that by Him all things consist.

Quote Source: Van Dyke, Henry J. and Francis L. Patton, Addresses at the Inauguration of the Rev. Francis L. Patton, D.D., LL.D. at Princeton, N.J., October 27, 1881. 1. The Charge, by Dr. Van Dyke, pp. 5-20; 2. Inaugural Address, by Rev. Francis L. Patton, pp. 21-46.

Words to Live By:
“If God is, then a revelation of God may be.” [The quote above lacks the comma, which I think helps make better sense of the sentence.] If there is a sovereign, personal God, then He may reveal Himself in such a way that we can understand something of who He is and what He demands of us as His creatures. The choice confronting modern man is simple. Either believe in an impersonal universe in which there can be no purpose, a universe in which everything is irrational, OR know that there is a God who is, a God who has purposed, at His own expense, to remove that which divides us from fellowship with Him, a God who has said to all who call upon Him in faith, “I will be your God and you will be My people.”




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