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Remembering October 31

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.

refday_luther02A lot of Protestants, when 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. These theses 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. His ninety-five theses had gone viral! There was a trumpet call being sounded for what later on became the Protestant Reformation.

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 glory to God alone? 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.

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breckinridgeJohnLord, Give Us Giants!

He was one of those men whom you wish had written more. His son, R. J. Breckinridge, was a prolific writer, but John only left us a handful of published works. John Breckinridge was born in Cabell’s Dale, near Lexington, Kentucky, July 4, 1797. John’s father, the Honorable John Breckinridge, had served as Attorney General during the Jefferson administration, but died when John was only nine years old.

Raised by his widowed mother and an older brother, John attended the College of New Jersey, graduating in 1818, but decided against the legal profession in order to prepare for the ministry at Princeton Theological Seminary, attending there from 1819-22. Upon graduation, he was appointed to serve as chaplain in the U.S. Congress, 1822-23, and following that term, was then ordained by the Presbytery of West Lexington on September 10, 1823 and installed as pastor of the Second (McChord) Church in Lexington, Kentucky. This church he served until called in 1826 by the Second Presbyterian Church, in Baltimore, Maryland.

Leaving the pulpit ministry, Rev. Breckinridge served from 1831 to 1836 as Corresponding Secretary for the Board of Education of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.  From 1836 to 1838, he was Professor of Pastoral Theology and Missionary Instruction at the Princeton Theological Seminary. His wife, Margaret, was the daughter of Dr. Samuel Miller, and she died in 1838. Perhaps her death prompted his resignation from the Princeton faculty, nor did John survive her by many years.  His last significant service was as Secretary and General Agent for the PCUSA Board of Foreign Missions, from 1838 to 1840. Leaving that post, he served only briefly as stated supply for a church in New Orleans, Louisiana before declining health forced his retirement, and he died on the same spot where he had been born, in Cabell’s Dale, Kentucky, on August 4, 1841, at the age of forty-four. One of the last things that he said before his death was—”I am a poor sinner who have worked hard, and had constantly before my mind one great object—the conversion of the world.”

During Rev. Breckinridge’s years with the Board of Education, he oversaw the publication of a series of Annuals, volumes comprised of collected essays. These volumes appear to be quite rare and the PCA Historical Center was blessed to locate a copy of the fourth volume, published in 1835. The full title of this work isThe Annual of the Board of Education of the Presbyterian Church in the United States: A New Year’s Offering for 1835.

Rev. Breckinridge writes a brief introduction for this volume, the larger portion of which follows [emphasis added]:—

ADDRESS TO THE CANDIDATES OF THE BOARD. (1834)

. . . In the present crisis of all things, human and divine, it is unspeakably important for American youth to know what heaven and earth expect from them. Candidates for such an office, in such an age, and such a country, can no longer be ordinary men. The position is one full of peril to themselves, and of calamity to the church and world,—if not occupied to the entire measure of its advantages and its distinction. The very highest attainments in piety, are now absolutely indispensable. He, who aims below this standing, cannot be a Christian in any age; but in this great conjecture, no man is fit to be minister who does not reach it.

It has often been said, this is an age of action. Those who are already in the field, and will not be efficient, must die off in their fearful lethargy. But to bring new sluggards into the ministry, and especially to put the treasure of the church in requisition, in order to do it, were indeed the gratuity of sin and folly,—”the superfluity of naughtiness.” “He that sleepeth in harvest is a son that causeth shame.” The harvest of the earth is ripe; and its boundless fields wave before us, and call on us to thrust in the sickle and reap. We must have more enterprise, more self-devotion, more of the foreign missionary spirit, or our Boards of Education will sink into contempt. Unless our young men awake, and arise to the greatness of their destiny and office, the world will outrun the church in enterprise, intrepidity, and public spirit. The church is now passing into the relation of great institutions and little men. May the days of men, yea, of giants, in God’s service, revisit the earth in your consecrated persons! Let it not be our shame, and the world’s affliction, that we have contributed to bring you into the sacred office.

With mingled hope, and fears, and with many supplications, and tears, and labors for you, I am your friend and fellow-servant,

JOHN BRECKINRIDGE,

EDUCATION ROOMS,
Philadelphia, Nov. 20th, 1834.

PUBLISHED WORKS BY THE REV. JOHN BRECKINRIDGE (with links to digital editions):—

“Introductory address” to Volume 1 (1832) of the series, The Annual of the Board of Education of the Presbyterian Church in the United States.

An address, delivered July 15, 1835, before the Eucleian and Philomathean societies of the University of the city of New York (1836).

Controversy between the Rev. John Hughes, of the Roman Catholic Church, and the Rev. John Breckinridge, of the Presbyterian Church : relative to the existing differences in the Roman Catholic and Protestant religions (1833).

Also authored by John Hughes [1797-1864], and John Breckinridge:—

A discussion of the question, Is the Roman Catholic religion, in any or in all its principles or doctrines, inimical to civil or religious liberty? And of the question, Is the Presbyterian religion, in any or in all its principles or doctrines, inimical to civil or religious liberty? (1836).

RELATED:

A Memorial of Mrs. Margaret Breckinridge (1839) – by Archibald Alexander.

 

 

[emphasis added]

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Appointed in Defense of the Gospel

Go to any battlefield commemorating the fighting of the War Between the States, or Civil War, and you will find monuments highlighting what took place on  that spot 150 years ago. In like fashion, any denomination which has any history at all, will have various spiritual monuments which remember the constant and never-ending battle for the gospel which took place by its ministers and members on behalf of the everlasting truth.

MarsdenRIt was on May 23, 1956 that one of the founders of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the Rev. Robert S. Marsden, spoke at the twentieth anniversary of that church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Taking as his text Philippians 1:7, he addressed the assembled members of the Orthodox Presbyterian churches in Philadelphia what is involved in being appointed for the defense of the gospel.

His first point spoke of the past monuments in defense of the gospel as they are found in church history.  Beginning at Pentecost, the minister traced the period of time from the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. which saved the day for the gospel against the early attacks upon it.  Then the Reformation period of the sixteenth century was raised up by God to preserve the church from Roman Catholic traditions which usurped the gospel.  A jump further to the beginnings of the Presbytery of Philadelphia in 1706, where seven ministers saw the need to organize a new church in the colonies.  Then June 11, 1936, a small band of one  hundred and fifty teaching and ruling elders constituted the First General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America, closed out the milestones of the gospel to be memorialized by Biblical Christianity.

After enunciating the summary of the gospel to be that Christ died for our sins, Rev. Marsden outlined the three battles which present themselves before the modern Reformed church.  There are, succinctly, the battle against religionists, the battle against externalism, and the battle against formalism.  How easy it is to be drawn away from the gospel into one of these false viewpoint and actions.

Our assured success, this Orthodox Presbyterian leader stated, falls into keeping our minds in the perpetual character of the war.  As long as we are in the church militant, there will be plenty of fighting on-going.  He reminded the listeners on that June evening in 1956 that battles must constantly be fought at the very point of contact.  All of these conflicts will often result in suffering for Christ, but success is assured if the message and ministry is kept relevant.

The entire message is found in the Presbyterian Guardian on-line archives, Vol 25, number 6 for June 15, 1956.  Readers are urged to read it in its entirety.

Words to Live By: If we as believers do not recognize our appointment by the Holy Spirit to defend the gospel, there is simple no one else who will do it.  Pray for a divine opportunity this week to say a word in defense of that blessed good news.

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

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.

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.

Through the Scriptures:  Luke 10 – 13

Through the Standards:  The definition of a sacrament in confession and catechisms.

WCF 27:1
“Sacraments are holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace, immediately instituted by God, to represent Christ and His benefits; and to confirm our interest in Him: as also, to put a visible difference between those that belong unto the Church and the rest of the world; and solemnly to engage them to the service of God in Christ, according to His Word.”

WLC 162 “What is a sacrament?
A. A sacrament is an holy ordinance instituted by Christ in his church, to signify, seal, and exhibit unto those that are within the covenant of grace, the benefits of his mediation; to strengthen and increase their faith, and all other graces; to oblige them to obedience; to testify and cherish their love and communion one with another; and to distinguish them from those that are without.”

WSC 92 “What is a sacrament?
A.  A sacrament is an holy ordinance instituted by Christ, wherein, by sensible signs, Christ, and the benefits of the new covenant, are represented, sealed, and applied to believers.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:  

 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.

Words to Live By: Names are important.  At this first Assembly, they called themselves “The Presbyterian Church in the United States of America.”  Whatever your church is called and known in your locality, if it is an evangelical and Reformed church, live according to its biblical testimony in the light of the Word of God.  Only then can you win to Christ the many who reside outside of the Savior.

Through the Scriptures: Psalms 120 – 123

Through the Standards: Private and public confession of sin part of repentance

WCF 15:6
“As every man is bound to make private confession of his sins to God, praying for the pardon thereof; upon which, and the forsaking of them, he shall find mercy; so, he that scandalizes his brother, or the Church of Christ, ought to be willing, by a private and public confession, and sorrow for his sin, to declare his repentance to those that are offended, who are thereupon to be reconciled to him, and in love to receive him.”

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