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An Odd Juxtaposition of Dates

The First General Assembly Held in America:

To Presbyterians, the American Revolution had been a holy war.  And now with its winning, Christian Presbyterians could get back to growing the church.  And that growth took place in a period of spiritual progress.  From New York all the way south to the Carolinas, new settlements were begun, with Presbyterian missionaries and ministers being sent throughout the whole length of the land.

But as the churches and  the presbyters  became more and more distant from one another, there was a concern about attendance.  In all the synods put together, over one hundred ministers were absent in any given year with only six of the churches presented by elders.  In one synod, a new moderator was elected, and then excused when it became known that he had not been present for the previous eleven years.  Clearly something had to be done.

The sixteen Presbyteries were organized into four separate synods in 1785.  They were: Philadelphia, New York and New Jersey, Virginia, and the Carolinas.  Numerically, this meant that there were four synods, sixteen presbyteries, 177 ministers, 111 licentiates, and 419 churches.

It was on May 21, 1789, that the first General Assembly was held in the original city of Presbyterianism, Philadelphia.  John Witherspoon was chosen to preach the first sermon of that assembly.  The delegates chose the Rev. John Rodgers to be the first moderator.  He had been trained back in the Faggs Manor Presbyterian Church under New Side Minister Samuel Blair.

Some housekeeping had to be done in light of the separation from England.  No longer could the civil magistrate be considered to be the head of the church.  So chapters in the Westminster Standards which put him as the head of the church were re-written in the light of the American victory in the American Revolution.  No one denomination would any longer be considered a state church, whether it was Anglican, Roman Catholic, or Presbyterian.  There was a separation of church from state.

And Denominational Deathknell:

Then, moving into a later century, we note that in “1918 three churches united to form First Presbyterian Church, New York City. They called as pastor Rev. Mr. George Alexander, D.D., and as associate pastor, Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick, a Baptist. On Sunday morning May 21, 1922, Dr. Fosdick preached a famous sermon titled: “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” In this he contrasts the conservative and liberal views on the Virgin Birth, the inspiration of Scripture, the Atonement and the Second Advent of Christ and pleads for tolerance of both views within the church. In 1923 Dr. Fosdick gave the Lyman Beecher lectures on preaching before the Yale Divinity School, which were later published under the title: “The Modern Use of the Bible.” This material clearly sets forth the liberal beliefs of Dr. Fosdick which are at complete variance with clear Scriptural teaching.”  [Historical Background and Development of the RPCES, by Thomas G. Cross, 1968]

Words to Live By:
We may never know whether Fosdick chose that specific date for the delivery of his infamous sermon, whether he intended with some note of irony, but clearly that sermon serves as a marker for all the many changes that have come since. As it is true for denominations and for local churches, so too every Christian is each day faced with decisions that may steer us in one direction or another. A decision to follow Christ or to follow self and its desires, which will it be?

“Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
But his delight is in the law of the Lord and in His law doth he meditate.”—Psalm 1:1-2, KJV.

 

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Remembering October 31

It is my earnest hope that no reader is going to wonder why this writer wants them to remember Halloween!  October 31st, and specifically October 31, 1517, is the date of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.  On this date, an obscure Augustinian monk by the name of Martin Luther nailed ninety-five theses to the church door in Wittenburg, because that was the usual custom of advertisement for the people’s attention.  It was the twenty-first century bulletin board.   Luther nailed them up at noon sharp because it was the time of the most frequent feasts.  Professors, students, and the common people would be coming from all four corners to the church, which was filled up with relics for transfers of credit.

A lot of Protestants, while  hearing of this incident of the nailing of ninety-five theses, think that they were ringing endorsements of Protestant theology.  In reality, they were more Roman  Catholic than Protestant.  There is no protest against the Pope and the Roman Catholic church, or any of  her doctrines, not even against indulgences.  They were silent about justification by faith alone.   They were primarily opposed to the abuse of indulgences.

But while the form is Romish, the spirit and aim is Protestant.  They represent a state of transition between twilight and daylight.  We must read between the lines, as the leaders of the Roman Catholic church did in the sixteenth century.  As they did, they saw a logical drift which sought to undermine the whole fabric of Romanism.

Luther hoped that there would be a scholarly debate of the abuse of indulgences.  But no one came to debate him.  Instead, with the recent invention of the printing press, the copies of the ninety-five theses were sent all over the empire.  The pope  had a copy within two weeks.  The common people read them and rejoiced over them.  Luther was the talk of Germany.  There was a trumpet call being sounded for what later on became   the Protestant Reformation.

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Words to live by: In less than five years, in 2017,  we will celebrate the five-hundredeth anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Will there be a revival of its themes in your church and more important, in your heart, such as  Scripture alone, Christ alone, Grace Alone, Faith Alone, and Only to the Glory of God?  That sums up what Luther, and Calvin, and Knox thundered to the masses and the visible  church.  Reflect on  the story of Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation in your heart, home, and  church.

What better reason for remembering this day. No, not Halloween. Rather, October 31st, and specifically October 31, 1517, as it marks the date of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.  On this date, an obscure Augustinian monk by the name of Martin Luther nailed ninety-five theses to the church door in Wittenburg, because that was the usual custom of advertisement for the people’s attention.  It was in effect a public bulletin board. Luther nailed the document up at noon sharp because that was the time of the most frequent feasts.  Professors, students, and the common people would be coming from all four corners to the church on “All Saints Day,” for that was a time when it was filled up with relics for transfers of credit or “merit” under the Roman Catholic system.

 

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My Life is in the Custody of Him Whose Glory I Seek

The great Reformer, John Knox, had been  in the land of Scotland for a mere six weeks, arriving on May 2, 1559.  He had been preaching continuously along the coast of the kingdom when there came to him an invitation from the Protestant Lords of the congregation.

The invitation took place in a historical context.  On May 31 of that year, the Second Covenant had been signed by these very same Lords which pledged them to mutual support and defense in the cause of religion, and by that, they meant the Protestant religion.  There were also certain promises made by the Queen Regent with respect to the town of Perth and its people, who had demonstrated against the Roman Catholic faith and life.  As soon as she took possession of the town with the help of French troops, she began to violate every promise she  had made, excusing her actions by stating that she was not bound to keep promises made to heretics.

In reaction to that, the Protestant Lords invited John Knox to come to St. Andrews to preach the Word in the Abbey Church there.  The Reformed accepted the invitation.  When the Archbishop heard of this invitation and its acceptance, he informed John Knox that his military forces would seek to stop him by force should he appear in the pulpit.  Further, the Queen regent herself was but a dozen miles away with French troops who were hostile to the Reformation cause.

Alarmed at the circumstances which had arisen from their invitation to the Reformer, and unwilling to have his life in imminent peril, they communicated with Knox their concern for his life if he agreed to their invitation.  His answer to them was typical of the great Reformed and should serve as an example to all entrusted with the gospel.  He replied:

“As for the fear of danger that may come to me, let no man be solicitous; for my life is in the custody of Him whose glory I seek.   I  desire   the  hand and weapon of no man to defend me.  I only crave audience; which, if it be denied here unto me at this time, I  must  seek farther where I may have it.”

This was clearly the man who never feared the fact of man.  Knox preached at St. Andrews on June 16, 1559.   His audience not only included the town people, but also the arch bishop, and “scowling bands of armed retainers prepared for the assassination of the fearless preacher.” (Rev. W. M. Hetherington, “History of the Church of Scotland” (p. 45)

His theme was that of the Lord Jesus ejecting the money changers out of the temple in Jerusalem, which he applied as a necessity of the true church in removing the corruptions of the Roman Catholic church, and purifying the church.  Such was the effect of this sermon, and three like it in the same pulpit, was that the inhabitants of the area set up Reformed worship in the town.

Words to Live By:

When Scotland was on Fire

In this dear land in days of yore,
God moved in mighty power;
His Word He blessed and souls found rest,
When Scotland was on fire.
And in those days of yesteryear,
Men loved the Word of God;
They preached it true and lived it too,
When Scotland was on fire.

Once more Lord, once more Lord;
As in the days of yore;
On this dear land, Thy Spirit pour,
Set Scotland now on fire.

There were Welsh and Peden, Craig and Knox;
McCheyne and Rutherford;
Bonar and Wishart, Livingston,
These loved the Word of God,
And many others of renown,
For Christ their lives laid down;
When Scotland was on fire for God,
When Scotland was on fire.

In this dear land in days of yore,
Men honoured Christ the Lord;
They followed him, come loss or gain,
When Scotland was on fire.
In castle grand and but’n ben,
God had the chiefest place,
Nor stake nor rack could hold them back,
When Scotland was on fire.

Once more, once more, once more Oh Lord,
On this dear land of heather and glens
And lochs and hills,
Set Scotland now on fire.

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Anyone who has been called into the ministry of the Word of God prays for a godly response in the hearts of the listeners. Certainly this was the desire of the Reformers in Scotland in the sixteenth century. To put away all things that dishonor His name was the prayer of those who entered into the sacred calling. But it didn’t always work out that way in practice.

knoxJohn04John Knox had returned to Scotland from Geneva Switzerland on May 2, 1559 (See that post on TDPH for a review). Beginning to preach the Reformed Faith to his fellow Scotsmen, John Knox had preached a thunderous sermon to the citizens of Perth, Scotland. The subject of his sermon exposed the idolatry of the Roman Church which included the worship of images.

Immediately following that message, a Roman Catholic priest unwisely attempted to serve mass. A young boy showed his displeasure at the attempt, for which he was struck by the priest. The boy retaliated by throwing a stone, which broke one of the images on the altar. Soon, the spectators of the altercation proceeded to favor the young boy’s action, by breaking all the images in the church. It turned into a riot when a mob proceeded to enter into all the Roman Catholic churches and even the monasteries, and lay them to ruins. Even John Knox, who tried to stop the unruly mob, referred to them as “a rascal multitude.”

Queen Mary of Guise, the queen regent, responded by calling forth her army, augmented by French troops in the area, and advanced to the city of Perth, threatening to lay waste the town and the citizens of it. The Protestant Lords of the congregation were able to assembly 25,000 soldiers to protect the Protestants. Obviously, a military showdown was about to take place. The queen regent, Mary, anxious to avoid such a showdown, entered then into an agreement that the town would be left open to the Queen, that none of its inhabitants would be interfered with, that the French troops would not enter the city, and that when the Queen would leave, there would be no garrison of troops left in the town.

All of these actions led to that which has been called the Second Covenant, signed and sealed on May 31, 1559. By this, those who signed the covenant resolved 1) to maintain their evangelical confederation; 2) to do all things required by God in the Scriptures; 3) to observe true worship; 4) to preserve the liberty of the Congregation and each member of it. These four points made up this Second Covenant, which was signed in the name of the whole Congregation, with the specific names of the Earls of Argyle and Glencairn, Lord James Stewart, Lord’s Boyd and Ochiltree, and Matthew Campbell. 

The Second Covenant was immediately put to the test as the Queen Regent, Mary of Guise, turned her back on all of her promises to the Protestants. The battle for the soul of the nation was set to continue in the land.

Words to Live By:
It would be easy to resort to fleshly means to bring about the spiritual kingdom of God in a land. Our spiritual ancestors in Scotland were under a different standard as they sought to put away all things that dishonor His name. That is what this Second Covenant was all about on this day in 1559. Through godly prayer and spiritual works, as our Confessional Fathers put it, we are to destroy the kingdom of Satan, advance the kingdom of grace, and hasten the kingdom of glory.

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The Importance of a Christian Home

The father of five children—four girls and a boy—was a God-fearing man and a member of the Methodist church in Watsonville, California.  He was first a farmer, then a carpenter, and finally a builder.  He even built the house where his only son, Donald, was born on March 28, 1895.  In this home the Bible was read everyday for family devotions, and tithing—or keeping his “accounts with God”—was simply part of the family record.  The father made sure that the family was faithful in the services of church. In short, this head of the family had a simple faith in what the Bible said, and he raised his family accordingly.

His wife, Jane, had been raised a Roman Catholic. Her brother even became a Jesuit priest, so it was surprising when Jane left the Roman Catholic church in her teens. Apparently her reason was to preserve her virginity from a lecherous young priest, though sadly her parents sided with the church and abandoned her. Finding her own way, she began to work in a dressmakers shop, and also began to attend a small Methodist church, where she met Theodore Barnhouse. They married and a strong Christian family began its existence.

BarnhouseDGTheir only son, Donald, began his Christian service with the young people’s organization, Christian Endeavor.  There he was to be mentored by strong Christians who led him in the study of God’s Word.  That grounding in the Bible led him to the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (now Biola) and finally to Princeton Theological Seminary, where he would study under B.B. Warfield and William Benton Green.

As they say, “the rest is history.” Donald Grey Barnhouse would spend the greater part of his 33 years ministry as pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. What began as one family’s faith continued and grew in Donald’s life and ministry until the fruit of that ministry influenced thousands of others in their faith and life, down to this very day. But it all began with that one little Christian home and a father who was faithful in leading his wife and children.

Words to Live By: Looking at your home and its influence upon your children or future family, can it be said that Christ is at the center of the home, the Bible is the foundation of the home, and God’s glory is the goal of the home?

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