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A Great Loss for Westminster Seminary

The new orthodox seminary, Westminster, had only been open for two weeks on October 11, 1930, when one of the premier faculty members of that theological institution, and before that, Princeton Theological Seminary,  Dr. Robert Dick Wilson, died suddenly. He had been blessed with excellent health for most of his teaching career. But after a brief week of illness, he went into the presence of the Lord.

This writer’s father, who studied under Dr. Wilson at Princeton from 1927 to 1929, told me that Robert Dick Wilson planned his life in three phases. Phase one was to learn all the extant languages of, or related to, the Scriptures. And he did have a working knowledge of somewhere between twenty-five and forty-five languages (accounts vary). The second phase was to study all the higher critical attacks upon the Bible. And the last phase was to publish in defending the Scriptures against all of those higher critical attacks upon the sacred Word. It was with regards to this last phase that he commented that he had come to the conviction that no man knows enough to attack the veracity of the Old Testament.

One humorous incident in his teaching career at Princeton was the time that a woman had enrolled in his class. One day, as was usually the case, he was disheveled in his attire when he came to class. Often the suspenders which held up his pants would be pinned by two safety pins. Teaching animatedly, the two pins became undone with the result that his pants slid to the floor. Embarrassed immensely, and sliding down to raise his pants again,  he could only cry out “Where is Mrs. Jennings? Where is she?,” fearing she was in class in the back row. When told that the lone woman in question had cut his class to study in the library, Dr. Wilson responded, “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow.”

Words to live by:  Why would an accomplished scholar like Dr. Robert Dick Wilson leave his life’s calling at Princeton Seminary in 1929 to go to a brand new theological institution where there was no guarantee of funds for either teaching or retirement? The answer is that Dr. Wilson knew that a person cannot have God’s richest blessings, even in teaching the truth, when the opportunity to teach that truth is gained by corruption of principles. And the reorganization of Princeton’s Board of Trustees, with the resulting addition of two members who had signed the Auburn Affirmation, was just that—a corruption of principles.  May we take a similar stand for righteousness, regardless of the outcome to our lives. May we always stand for the infallible truth of God’s Word.

For further study: The PCA Historical Center, which hosts This Day in Presbyterian History, houses among its many collections the Papers of Dr. Robert Dick Wilson. As one means of promoting that collection, the Historical Center has posted a number of articles about Dr. Wilson on its web site, and these can be found here.

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Children’s Covenant

Our post today is set in the context of the small devotional groups which arose in central and southern Scotland after the death of Richard Cameron and Donald Cargill (see July 22 and July 27). They were known as the Society People of Scotland, and we will consider their existence on December 15.  For now, this was a family oriented commitment to faith and devotion in Christ. It so permeated their spiritual lives that even the youngest of their families had a sincere belief in that faith and life.  And nowhere is this seen better than what has been called the Children’s Bond.

Fourteen young girls, the oldest of them around ten years of age, came together in Pentland outside of Edinburgh to commit  themselves to God and His Word.  One of them, Beatrix Umpherston, is thought to be the originator of the bond made between them. Precious is personal faith by any Christian, but especially precious is this seen in young girls at the dawn of their teenage years. The Bond is worth reprinting in full, as a witness to all ages.

“This is a Covenant made between the Lord and us, with our whole hearts, and to give up ourselves freely to Him without reserve, soul and body, hearts and affections, to be  His children and Him to be our God and Father, if it please the Lord to send His gospel to the land again, that we stand to this Covenant which we have written, between the Lord and us, as we shall answer at that great day. That we shall never break this Covenant which we have made between the Lord and us, that we shall stand to this Covenant which we have made; and if not, it shall be a witness against us in the great day when we shall stand before the Lord and his holy angels. O Lord, give us real grace in our hearts this day to mind Zion’s breaches which are in such low case this day: and make us mourn with her, for Thou hast said them t hat mourn with her in the time of trouble shall rejoice when she rejoiceth, when the Lord shall bring back t he captivity of Zion, when he shall deliver her out of her enemies’ hand, when her King shall come and raise her from the dust, in spirit of all her enemies that oppose  her, either devils or men. That thus, they have banished their King, Christ out of the land, yet he will arise and avenge His childrens’ blood at her enemies’ hands, which cruel murderers have shed.”

On the back of the written Covenant were found these words: “Them that will not stand to every article of this Covenant which we have made betwixt the Lord and us, that they shall not go to the Kirk to hear any of those soul-murdering curates we will neither speak nor converse with them. Any that break this Covenant, they shall never come into our Society.  We shall declare before the Lord that have bound ourselves in Covenant, to be covenanted to  Him all the days of our life, to be His children and Him to be our Covenanted Father.”

And then: “We subscribe with our hands these presents — Beatrix Umpherston, Margaret Galloway, Helen Moutray, Janet Brown, Helen Straiton, Helen Clark,  Marion Swan, Janet Swan, Margaret Brown, Janet Brown, Isobel Craig, Margaret McMoren, Martha Logan, Christian Laurie, Agnes Aitken.

It would be neat to trace the development of each young person who signed this Covenant.  We only have discovered one follow-up, that of the first signer, Beatrice Umpherston.  He eventually married a Covenanter pastor by the name of John M’Neil.  God gave  her a long life in service for Christ.  She died when she was 90 years old, on this day, September 4, 1763 and was buried in Old Pentland Cemetery, Scotland.

Words to Live By:
Is there not a spiritual lesson for us readers today, pastors or lay people?  If the church is to recover her spiritual soul and be a powerhouse for the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, then she must surely work toward,  and pray for, a family faith in the Triune God to be existent in our homes.  Fathers and Mothers of This Day in Presbyterian History, is your family  setting the Lord Jesus first in all that you believe and do?  Pastors and Ministers of This Day in Presbyterian History, is your congregation aiding the family to be Christian families in the world today?  Would/Could any similar covenant by our children and teenagers today be similar in commitment as this Chrildren’s Bond was written?  Lord God, we pray for the Christian families of America, and especially those represented by our Presbyterian churches.

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A New Act Brings Mass Resignations

Suppose . . . just suppose now . . . that you as a minister, or your minister, had a certain time period to decide to renounce the ordination vows made at ordination, subscribe to a different set of doctrinal standards, promise to arrange the worship according to a different standard of worship, agree to be re-ordained by another ecclesiastical body, and do all this by a certain day, or be deposed by the spiritual authorities which had the approval of the government. Talk about change! And yet this was the way it was on this day in Presbyterian history, August 24, 1662 in the British Isles.

It was called officially The Act of Uniformity, 1662. Its longer title was “An Act for the Uniformity of Public Prayers and Administration of Sacraments and other Rites and Ceremonies and for the Establishing the Form of making, ordaining, and consecrating Bishops, Priests, and Deacons in the Church of England.” It was broken up into five actions; (1) to have a complete and unqualified assent to the newly published book of Common Prayer of the Church of England.  (In passing, most preachers and people had not even seen this newly published book.) (2) to subscribe to the Thirty-Nine articles of the Church of England; (3) to renounce the Solemn League and Covenant; (4) To renounce any attempt to alter the government of the church or state; (5) to receive ordination at the hands of a bishop in the Church of England.

Combined with other acts of this Church, it excluded anyone who was not in compliance with the above from holding civil or military office. Students at Cambridge or Oxford would not receive any degrees from such study, if they refused this act.

And all this was to take place before August 24, which date was the celebration of St. Bartholomew Day. Students of church history remember, as they did then, that this was the day of the massacre in France when Huguenots were slaughtered by the Roman Catholics. So, this was a day remembered “Black” St. Bartholomew”s Day.

It is estimated that some 2000 ministers were ejected from their pulpits and parishes, including their manses, with Anglican priests put in their place. The majority were Presbyterian (1,816), Independents (194), and Baptists (19). A similar procedure was enacted in Scotland, with 400 ministers ejected from the pulpits and parishes. In future posts, we shall treat some of these ministers who were ejected on that day.

Words to Live By:
Two years ago, in 2012, there was a ministry event of reconciliation by the Church of England at the 350th anniversary of the Great Ejection. We might be glad that such a meeting took place, but the real issue was, as Ian Murray put it, the issue on the nature of true Christianity. Let’s face it. True adherence to the gospel will require sacrifice. That is why all of us as believing Presbyterians need to be more in prayer and watchfulness for our respective Presbyterian denominations and local churches. What has been faithful and true in the past may not be the case for the present and future witness of your church, if church officers and members grow careless about the faith once delivered unto the saints. As Paul put it, “the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2)

Sunday Sermon
Two volumes, Sermons of The Great Ejection (Banner of Truth, 1962) and Farewell Sermons (Soli Deo Gloria, 1992), provide some of the gathered sermons preached by these pastors when torn from their congregations by the Act of Uniformity. The following words are a portion of the sermon brought by the  Rev. John Whitlock on that fateful day. (time and space do not permit the full text)


Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent.Rev. 3:3.

Beloved, when I entered on this verse in the course of my Friday Lecture, I little thought that I had so short a time to preach among you. I hoped I should have enjoyed some further opportunities for some few weeks, at least as long as the Act of Uniformity allows. But it has pleased God by His wise and holy providence to order it otherwise. I being suspended from preaching here from this day forward, for nonconformity. How far rightly or legally on man’s part, I shall not dispute, but leave to the righteous God to determine. I desire that both you and I may not eye man, but God, in this dispensation. I did not think to have preached my Farewell Sermon to you from these words, but having begun this text, and finding the matter of it so seasonable and suitable to this sad occasion, I shall by God’s assistance proceed in the handling of it.

Since it is probable that I shall preach no more to you, I judge it very seasonable to leave the exhortation in the text with you, to call upon you to remember what and how you have received and heard, and to hold fast those wholesome truths you have heard, and those precious ordinances (at least the remembrance, impressions, and gracious effects of them) that you have enjoyed and been privileged with. Also, to repent of those sins, which have provoked, and may further provoke God to come on us as a thief, to take away many of His ministers from among us. . .

. . . The silence of ministers calls aloud on us all to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God. It bids us to repent of our sins, the causes of God’s judgments. It calls on you to prize and improve ministers and ordinances, better, if God shall continue, restore or further afford them to you. Yes, ministers’ silence should cause people to speak the more and louder to God in prayer for the continuance and restoring of ministers and ordinances to them. When you do not hear so much and so often from God in preaching, let God hear the more and oftener from you in prayer. Ply the throne of grace. Give God no rest till He make Jerusalem a praise in the earth. And as our silence should make you speak the more to God, so also the more and oftener one unto another in holy conference, to provoke to love and to good works. And I beseech you, brethren, pray for us. Whatever God may do with us, or whithersoever we may be driven, we shall carry you in our hearts; and when and while we remember ourselves to God, we shall never forget you, but present you and your souls’ concerns daily unto God at the throne of grace in our prayers. And we earnestly beg this of you, as you would remember what we have spoken to you in the name of the Lord, so you would remember us to God, and let us have a room and share in your hearts and prayers. When you get into a corner to pour out your hearts before God, carry us to God upon your hearts. Do not forget us, but lift up a prayer to God for us, your (we hope we may say) faithful, though weak, unworthy ministers, who have laboured among you in the Word and doctrine.

I shall say no more, but conclude with these two Scriptures: ‘And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and the word of His grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified,’ Acts 20.32. The other Scripture is that request of Paul to, and prayer for, the Hebrews in Chapter 13.18-21: ‘Pray for us: for we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly. But I beseech you the rather to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner. Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.’

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Thou hast given a banner to them that fear thee, that it may be displayed because of the truth. Selah—Psalm 37:4, KJV

It wasn’t the case that John Knox had not been a pastor before this date. After all, he has served as a pastor in a couple of congregations in his Anglican days. Further, during his time of exile, he had been a undershepherd in Germany and Geneva. But now, having returned to his beloved Scotland, John Knox was called to St. Giles, the mother church of Presbyterianism, the High Kirk of Edinburgh on this day, July 7, 1559. He was to serve the people of God there, except for a brief stint in St. Andrews, Scotland, for the next twelve years, until his death in 1572.

St. Giles was a historic church in many ways. It went back to the Middle Ages. In more recent times, the National Covenant was signed there in 1638. There is a framed copy of it in one of the rooms.  Even the Solemn League and Covenant was drawn up in 1643 when the General Assembly met there at the church. Oh yes, this was also the church in which one Jenny Geddes threw  her stool at an Anglican leader when he tried to lead the worship from the new Anglican Prayer Book, which action in turn led to a riot. Supposedly, there is a stool present within the church there to remember that celebrated incident. Then in 1904, a statue of John Knox himself was presented by Scots people from all over the world for the church.

Knox was a busy pastor during these years at St. Giles. He preached twice on Sunday. Another day of the week had him preaching three times. He met with the Session of Elders weekly for discipline purposes. Still others of the congregation met with him for what is described as “exercises in the Scriptures.” The regional and national  meetings of the church were not neglected by the Reformer. And of course, he was invited to preach the Word all over the kingdom during those years. In fact, so busy was he that the Town Council in 1562 brought in another pastor by the name of John Craig to assist Knox in the ministrations of the ministry.

As far as books were concerned, in 1652, the First Book of Discipline was written there by Pastor Knox. Five years later, his Reformation in Scotland was completed while a pastor there.

And most of all, his celebrated conversation with Mary, Queen of Scots, all took place during these twelve years.  He wanted to lead her to Jesus as Lord and Savior. She wanted to get rid of him out of the kingdom!

He was to take one sabbatical for his own safety to St. Andrews for a while. Someone tried to kill him as he sat in his study at his table.  The bullet missed him. So he went to this other pulpit for a time. After several months, the Session re-called him as their pastor. He went back, but with little strength for the work of the pastor.

John Knox went to be with the Lord in 1572, the details of which this author will write on that date in Presbyterian History.

Words to Live By:
It has been said that John Knox was the Scotsman to whom the whole world owes a debt.  Certainly, we Christian Presbyterians need to celebrate what the Holy Spirit did through him in Scotland and our land, considering that 2014 is the 500th anniversary of his birth. Is your church planning any sort of celebration of his life and ministry? It is not too late to plan one for your people’s appreciation of this Reformer, not to elevate the man, but to praise the Lord who so powerfully worked through him.

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This Day in Presbyterian History: 

Exchanging a Cross for a Crown

Do you realize that, to the surprise of countless Christians, Presbyterianism has produced some of the most noteworthy evangelists in history, especially in the late eighteen hundreds and early nineteen hundreds?   We say “surprise to countless Christians” because it is wrongly thought that our understanding of Calvinism would prohibit us from being evangelists.  But it is rather a case of because we are convinced of Calvinist truth in the Holy Scriptures, that we are zealous of winning souls to the Lord Jesus Christ.  The inspired writer Luke sums up our confidence, when in Acts 13:48, he described the gospel’s effect being preached by Paul “as  many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” (ESV)

One of the greatest Presbyterian evangelists of that time period was William Edward Biederwolf.  Born in 1867, he was the seventh child of two German Presbyterians, Michael and Abolana Biederwolf of Monticello, Indiana.  After schooling in the area, he taught school for a while.  Attending Wabash College in Indiana, a Sunday School class began to pray for his conversion.  In fact, each of them wrote a letter, urging him to receive Christ as his personal Lord and Savior.  At age 20, he did just that, becoming a Christian.

He then went to Princeton University, and Princeton Seminary, graduating in 1895.  Marrying a hometown gal the next year, he studied overseas in Germany at the University of Berlin and the Sorbonne.  Well educated for his life’s calling then, he returned to the United States where he was called to the pulpit of Broadway Presbyterian Church in Loganport, Indiana in 1897.  It was a short ministry as the war clouds of the Spanish-American War loomed on the horizon. He enlisted as a chaplain of the 131st Second Voluntary Regiment  of the 13th Calvary, serving six months in Cuba.  He would write  on his experience and the regiment he served afterwards,  as a spiritual servant of Christ.

Beginning the new year and millennium of 1900, he entered evangelism as a full-time preacher of the gospel.  For the next 39 years before he passed away on September 3, 1939, he made three world tours of evangelism.  And yet the most dramatic evangelistic ministry he engaged in was in a town in Pennsylvania, called Oil City.  In the winter of 1914 on the eve of World War I, he had thousands attending in the bitter cold of north-west Pennsylvania, with the result that the whole town from the mayor down to the ordinary citizen, was stirred in  deep concern about the things of God and their place in it.

His closing years was spent associated with the Winona Lake Bible Conference and School of Theology.  After a long illness, he spoke the title of this devotional about his exchange of a cross of a crown to his wife, and died the next day.

Words to live by:  Christian reader, you can go forth in the power of the Holy Spirit, sharing by life and lips, to your unsaved loved ones, neighbors, school friends, fellow workers at your jobs, and even strangers whom you meet in divine appointments, the unsearchable riches of Christ and Him crucified, knowing that those who are ordained to eternal life, will believe the gospel and be saved.  Claim this text of Acts 13:48 as your confidence, and go, be witnesses of Christ.

Through the Scriptures:  2 Chronicles 10 – 13

Through the Standards: The day of worship

W.C.F. 21:7
“As it is the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in His Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment binding all men in all ages, He has particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto him; which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week; and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, which, in Scripture, is called the Lord’s Day, and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath.”

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