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In His Time, the Lord Will Raise Up a Man.

There is so much that could be told here about our subject today. Samuel Eusebius McCorkle was born in Pennsylvania, near what is now the city of Harrisburg, in 1746. His parents were godly Scots-Irish settlers who raised their children in the fear of the Lord. When Samuel was just nine, his parents moved the family to North Carolina where they settled a 300 tract of forested land and with great labor, turned it into a farm. The family also became members of the historic congregation that would later be known as the Thyatira Church, not far from Salisbury, NC.

Samuel excelled at learning and even taught his brothers and sisters before going off to the College of New Jersey, where he studied under Dr. John Witherspoon. Upon graduation, he studied theology with his uncle in New Jersey, and then began to seek ordination and a pastoral call to serve a church. In God’s providence, he returned to the Thyatira Church to serve there as pastor from 1777 until his death on January 21, 1811.

But what particularly caught my eye as I read through one account of his life was the following paragraph, which brought back a professor’s lesson in seminary. Teaching a course on “The Introduction to Theology” at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia in the late 1970’s, Professor John Frame noted how often the Lord raises up one man to stand against the tide of unbelief and opposition. Besides some of the obvious Biblical examples of Moses and Daniel, he cited Athenasius and Martin Luther, among others. It is in that same vein that this following account seems so important. Here we have a picture of early America that we may not have seen before, but it is also a picture in many respects much like today:

During the Revolutionary war, and especially from the summer of 1780, when the South became the theatre of conflict, the country was in a state of utter confusion, and vice of almost every kind prevailed to an alarming extent. The civil character of the war, too, gave it a peculiar ferocity, and produced a licentiousness of morals, of which there is scarcely a parallel at the present day. The municipal laws of the country could not be enforced, civil government was prostrated for a time, and society was virtually resolved into its original elements. Mr. McCorkle came out in reference to this state of things in his utmost strength. He preached, prayed, reasoned, and remonstrated–nor were his labours in vain. From the close of the Revolutionary war, and especially from the breaking out of the Revolution in France,–North Carolina, in common with other parts of the country, was overrun with French infidelity. Here again, he stood forth the indomitable champion of Christianity : he not only preached but published in defence of Divine Revelation; and infidelity quailed before him. It has been confidently asserted that more was done, in that part of the country, by his efforts, to arrest this tide of evil, which threatened at one time to sweep every thing before it, than by any or all other opposing influences.

Words to Live By:
Surely our times today are no worse than what you read pictured in the quote above. Then should we think that the Lord’s arm is now too short to save? (Num. 11:23; Isa. 59:1). Surely not! God can still work a mighty work, as great or greater than He did in McCorkle’s day. The only question is, are we waiting on Him in expectant prayer?
Let us therefore come boldly before the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace, to help in time of need.” (Heb. 4:16)

For Further Study:
A biography of Rev. McCorkle, titled The Prophet of Zion-Parnassus, was written by James F. Hurley and Julia Goode Eagan, and can now be read on the Web, here.

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Only A Presbyterian For A Short While.

It was on this day, January 20, 1812, that the Rev. John Nelson Abeel died. John was born in New York City in 1768, the son of Colonel James Abeel. He attended the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) and graduated there in 1787. Remaining at Princeton, he served as a tutor for two years, and then briefly began to study Law before deciding to pursue a call to the ministry. He studied theology privately, receiving guidance from both Dr. John Witherspoon, then president of the College, and Dr. John H. Livingston, a Dutch Reformed pastor.

In 1793, while serving as librarian at Princeton, Abeel found time to manage studies at the New Brunswick Theological Seminary and was licensed to preach by the Classis of New York. Beginning his years of ministry in Philadelphia in 1794, he served in a yoked assistant pastor role, serving concurrently at both the Arch Street and Old Pine Presbyterian churches. His time there was brief and in 1795 Rev. Abeel accepted a call to serve the Collegiate Dutch Reformed Church in New York City, and he continued in that pulpit until his death. It is also noted that Harvard University conferred the honorary Doctor of Divinity degree upon Reverend Abeel in 1804. Placing a high esteem on education, Rev. Abeel also served as a Trustee for both Columbia College and for Queen’s College (Rutger’s).

The Rev. Dr. Samuel Miller was also serving as a pastor in New York City in the 1790’s, and he knew Abeel well. Upon Rev. Abeel’s death, Miller provided a worthy tribute to a departed brother, and this portion of his eulogy is particularly noteworthy:

But the greatest glory of his character, as a Minister of the Gospel, was his ardent and eminent piety. This was uniform, prominent, and habitual. In every situation, public or private; in the pulpit or the prayer meeting; in the chamber of disease or the social circle; it was manifest that he walked with God, and that his great concern was to lead souls to Christ, and to minister to the spiritual good of all. His religion was personal, cordial, and practical; not merely official. It was evident to all who conversed with him, or who listened to his conversation, that his great object was, like his Master, to “go about doing good.”

Words to Live By:
Isn’t that what we want for all our pastors, and for ourselves as well? To exhibit an ardent and eminent piety, that it would be evident that we walk with God, and that our great concern would be to see others come to a saving faith in Christ Jesus our Lord?

For Further Study:
Two archival collections were located for Rev. Abeel. The Presbyterian Historical Society has preserved a small collection of a few sermons, and the New Jersey Historical Society has a slightly larger collection of items concerning both Rev. Abeel and his son Gustavus. The New York Public Library has preserved a portrait of Rev. Abeel, which can be viewed here. Information on Rev. Abeel’s grave site can be viewed here.

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From the Presbyterian Church of America to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church

welbonThe Rev. Henry G. Welbon was a founding member in 1936 of the denomination that later became known as the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. His own convictions led him to next affiliate with the Bible Presbyterian Church in 1938. Eventually he became a member of the PCA in 1982, when the PCA received the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod.

Rev. Welbon [pictured at right] had a keen appreciation for history and gathered seven notebooks of news clippings and articles covering the modernist controversy in the 1930’s. These are preserved at the PCA Historical Center as an important part of his papers.

From among those clippings, there is the following, on how the Orthodox Presbyterian Church was forced in court to change the name that they had originally chosen, the Presbyterian Church of America.

Presbyterians of America Enjoined from Using Title
[a news clipping from a Philadelphia newspaper, dated January 18, 1937]

The fundamentalist group which split from the Presbyterian Church will have to find some other name than “Presbyterian Church of America,” President Judge Frank Smith ruled in Common Pleas Court No. 5 today.

The name, the Judge decided, resembles too closely the name of the main Presbyterian body, the “Presbyterian Church of the United States of America.”

The fundamentalist organization was formed in Philadelphia on June 10, 1936, by the late Dr. J. Gresham Machen and a group of other clergymen and laymen. The group declared itself a “General Assembly,” with Dr. Machen as moderator and Dr. Paul Woolley as clerk. The name Presbyterian Church of America was adopted.

The parent church countered with the court action, filed by the Rev. Henry B. Master, moderator, demanding that the “rebel” group be forbidden use of the name it selected.

A special meeting of the General Assembly probably will be necessary to select a new name for the church, Dr. Woolley said when he learned of the decision. He added that an appeal “is likely.”

The injunction handed down today forbids the Presbyterian Church of America and the individual defendants and all persons associated with them from using the name “or any other name similar to or imitative of or contraceptive of the name Presbyterian Church of the United States of America or the Presbyterian Church of the U.S.A., or ever doing any act calculated to mislead the public or members of the plaintiff church.”

Judge Smith remarked that he was not concerned with the “merits of the two respective doctrines,” but added:

“It would be a serious hurt to the reputation of the plaintiff church and a detriment to its work if the defendant church, bearing a name identical or similar, should enter areas occupied by the plaintiff church in real competition with it, thereby destroying the faith of those individuals in foreign countries insufficiently versed in English to comprehend the controversy.

“The acts done and threatened to be done by the defendant church are unfair and contrary to the principles of equity and good conscience, and violate the rights of the plaintiff church to use of its name and terminology.”

The decision concluded with the remark that the defendants are no longer members of the parent church, having severed their membership “in the ancient church when they were unable to impress their will on the General Assembly of the plaintiff church. Had they been successful in their determination, there would have been no defendant church.”

The thoughtful reader may ask, Why then wasn’t a similar lawsuit brought against the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), when it chose that name in 1974? It could only have been because the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. had merged with the United Presbyterian Church of North America in 1958. A true merger legally creates a new entity, and they had chosen the name United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (UPCUSA). That UPCUSA name was so different from Presbyterian Church in America that no similar lawsuit could be brought in the 1970’s.

Words to Live By:
Denominations exist because Truth matters. We seek to know God’s will and to live accordingly. To that end, careful study brings us to certain convictions about what the Bible teaches. But we are sinful and know the Scriptures imperfectly, so our convictions may differ from those of other Christians. On the level of honest, studied differences, division among Christians is regrettable, but necessary, if our allegiance to Truth is to be upheld. Here we can amicably continue to work toward a better understanding of God’s Word and His will for our lives.

But when is it right to divide or leave a denomination? The work of Scottish theologian James Durham is helpful at this point. In sum, he concluded that only when staying would mean having to participate in sin, only then is division appropriate and necessary. Another work on this subject, by the scholar John Macpherson, is available here and makes for fascinating reading.

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What was life like for a pastor in the early days of this country? Today’s entry, an excerpt from A History Of Muhlenberg County, concerning the Rev. Isaac Bard [1797-1878], provides a good glimpse.


THE Reverend Isaac Bard came to Muhlenberg in 1823, then in his twenty-sixth year, and from that time for almost a half century led a very active life in the community. No local preacher was better known in his day than “Preacher Bard.”

It is quite probable that during his more active ministerial career he was heard by every citizen then residing in the county. Those who listened to his sermons evidently remembered that fact, for although he died thirty-five years ago all the older native-born citizens now living, and to whom I have mentioned the name of Isaac Bard, invariably remarked that they had heard him preach.

He devoted about half his time to ministerial work; much of the remainder he gave to his farm on Bard’s Hill, south of Depoy. He owned extensive tracts of timber lands in the Pond River country, on which he ranged his stock. It is said he was often heard calling his hogs with a fox-horn. He was a tall, muscular man, kind and generous to every person with whom he came in contact, and extremely gentle to all animals. One who knew him well says: “Preacher Bard was a scholar and a gentleman of the old school. He was one of the most sober looking and at the same time most pleasant men I ever met. I remember he always had cold feet and usually kept them wrapped up in heavy cloth, and frequently complained of the discomfort.”

Isaac Bard was a son of William and Mary (Kincaid) Bard, and was born in Nelson County, Kentucky, near Bardstown, January 13, 1797. He died at his home, seven miles west of Greenville, June 29, 1878. After spending a few years in Transylvania University, Lexington, he began, in 1817, a course in Princeton Theological Seminary, New Jersey, and on April 27, 1820, was licensed to preach. During the same year he entered in the Senior class of Union College, Schenectady, New York, from which school he was graduated in 1821, and shortly after returned to Kentucky.

On July 26, 1823, he was ordained in Greenville by the Muhlenberg Presbytery and immediately took charge of the Presbyterian Church at Greenville and the congregation at Mt. Zion, near Green River. In autumn of the same year he organized Mt. Pleasant Church, near Pond River. These three congregations remained in his charge until about 1833. During this period he built a brick church in Greenville on a lot presented by pioneer James Weir. The old brick house was long ago abandoned as a place of worship, and is now used as a warehouse.

After the year 1833 no congregation was solely under his supervision, for from that time, and continuing for many years, he extended his ministerial work among many of the Presbyterian churches in Muhlenberg and all the adjoining counties. In 1862, when the division of the Presbyterian church took place, Mr. Bard adhered to the Southern General Assembly.

On March 15, 1827, he was married to Matilda Miranda Moore, daughter of pioneer Maurice Moore. They were the parents of five children: Henry Clay Bard, Luther Bard, Mrs. Verona Mary (Carrol) Larkins, Mrs. Martha Amaryllis (R. P.) Howell, and Doctor LaFayette Bard, all of whom made Muhlenberg their home.

When, in 1823, Isaac Bard first came to Muhlenberg, many of the Revolutionary soldiers and other pioneers were still alive. He was a college man, who from childhood had been in touch with the progress made in various cities and centers of culture and refinement. His constant association with the pioneers and their children undoubtedly had an influence in modernizing their habits and practices; and on the other hand, living among these people, many of their characteristic manners and customs became his own.

Farms, in those days, were few and far between. The county was still regarded as a new country. Most of the sermons then heard by the local people were delivered by men who, although deeply interested in religious work and well versed in the Bible, had a limited knowledge of theology and of logic. When Mr. Bard appeared on the scene he found a good field for the exercise of his college education and religious training. The uneducated as well as the educated recognized his ability as a “sermonizer.”

He kept pace with the times at home and abroad, and in some respects was ahead of his day. He lived during that period of the country’s history when “freedom and liberty” were known to be permanently established, and fighting for them was therefore no longer one of the principal objects in life. Local political questions, although discussed from the time the county was organized, were rapidly becoming more and more the leading topics of the day.

Mr. Bard was always interested in good books, and in the course of years accumulated a large library. He was very systematic and kept a written record of many of his transactions. His residence burned in 1876, two years before he died, and all his books and papers were destroyed except two of his own documents. One of these is a diary and the other contains some notes on local history. Isaac Bard probably never expected that these records would some day form a contribution to a printed history of Muhlenberg County.

The first of these personal documents is Bard’s Diary. This is a leather-bound book of two hundred pages, written with a quill pen. Although many pages are faded, the records are still legible. The greater part of this journal is devoted to the years 1848 to 1851; but it extends, with occasional entries, down to 1855, after which date about a dozen more records are added, bringing it to May, 1872. The diary evidently was written for his own gratification and convenience, and was not intended for publication. The second of Isaac Bard’s documents that has been preserved is what he designates a “Lecture on Muhlenberg County.” This is a sketch that seems to have been prepared for a lecture delivered some time after 1870.


Tuesday, November 7th, 1848: Rode to Rumsey and voted for Gen. Taylor to be president. May the Lord deliver our country from despotism and monarchy under the false name and disguise of Democracy. O Lord, have mercy on us as a nation, give us the grace of repentance that we may see our wickedness, turn from our national sins and seek forgiveness of Thee through the blood of atonement. O Lord, choose our rulers, preside in our destinies and make us a great people, distinguished for righteousness, love for pure civil and religious liberty and that we may grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

August, Monday, 7, 1849: Mr. Donaldson and I went up to Greenville. I voted for Edward R. Weir, the Emancipation candidate. While here I met with Col. Wm. McNary and we got into an argument on Emancipation. At last we got on the Scriptures on this subject and he said he would go and get a Bible and read it and show I was in error. He got the Bible and read it and I answered him by reading several verses, Ex. 21 ch. and Leve. 25 ch. on jubilee and extended my remarks on the scope of the Old and New Testaments. Some private questions, not manly, were asked me by G. C. and J. E., and also H. R. made an unbecoming remark of private nature. The Rev. John Donaldson was present and heard what passed, which took place under a locust tree in the court yard. Before I left the Rev. Jones and ______ came up. The former opened his Bible and the latter drew out a written paper. Both were about to answer me and some person remonstrated and got them to go away. Mr. Donaldson, standing on the outer edge of the crowd, said he heard several say, “They had better let Bard alone.” When I saw Jones and ______ come up and ready to speak, I got on a bench and remarked publicly: “I wish it understood I do not seek controversy, but I do not care how many come and speak, I will answer them.” Maj. McNary said: “Well, I do not think that that remark is called for.” So terminated this little debate. Several told me afterwards: “They made nothing off of you. You outdone them and you are able to do it.” Donaldson said some of them said: “When they go to the Scriptures they have no business with Mr. Bard.” O Lord, bless my speech and may much good and no evil come of it. Help us to love our neighbor as ourself.

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Also on this day:
In 1868, plans were laid for the Presbyterian Hospital in New York City.

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The Stuff of Operettas

There must be a shelf of books or more that have been written about the Beecher family. The Rev. Dr. Lyman Beecher, patriarch of this eccentric family, was born in 1775, studied theology with Dr. Timothy Dwight at Yale in preparation for the ministry, and served as pastor in East Hampton, Long Island, where he was blessed to see nearly three hundred added to the church. In 1826, he became pastor of the Hanover Church in Boston, MA.

Then in 1830, Beecher was named President and Professor of Theology at Lane Theological Seminary. So devoted were the people of Boston to him that nearly two years elapsed before arrangements were made, and he was able to move to Cincinnati, the location of the Seminary. The following spring, concurrent with his seminary duties, he was installed as the pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church of Cincinnati.

Above, right: Portrait of Dr. Lyman Beecher, standing, with his son Henry, seated.

Having given twenty years of his life to Lane Seminary, Dr. Beecher ended his public labors in 1852, when he returned to Boston and later to Brooklyn, where he lived near the home of his son, the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, and the church that Henry pastored. For some ten years he resided there and was “an honored landmark of a former generation,” before passing to his eternal rest on January 10, 1863.

In one of the better known biographical accounts of the Beecher family, Milton Rugoff gives in interesting glimpse into the lives of the Beechers. He writes:

Toward the end of his years in Cincinnati, Lyman Beecher would occasionally try to put his papers—a lifetime of sermons, lectures and records, many of them yellow with age—in order, but they would soon be scattered around his study again. Then, in the summer of 1851, after he and Lydia had moved in temporarily with the Stowes in their big house in Maine, he began, with the help of one of Lydia’s daughters, to prepare his writings for publication: selected sermons, lectures on atheism, temperance, dueling and such, together with his Views in Theology. Despite the fact that Harriet was already working on installments of Uncle Tom’s Cabin for the National Era, her father and his assistant took over the kitchen table while Harriet sat on the back steps with her writing portfolio on her lap.

Theology had never been Dr. Beecher’s strong point, and now many of his writings seemed only echoes of bygone issues and controversies. In print, without his vital presence and verve, they were lusterless and lacking in urgency. They would have received little attention had they not begun to appear not long after the sensational  publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and shortly before Edward Beecher’s The Conflict of the Ages stirred the church world. How strange it must have seemed to Lyman Beecher to be increasingly identified as the father of Harriet Beecher Stowe and Edward Beecher—not to speak of Henry Ward Beecher. Lyman hardly knew what to make of the astonishing success of Harriet’s novel, but his opinion of Edward’s book he packed into one pungent sentence: “Edward, you’ve destroyed the Calvinist barns, but I hope you don’t delude yourself that the animals are going into your little theological hencoop!”

[excerpted from The Beechers: An American Family in the Nineteenth Century, by Milton Rugoff. New York: Harper & Row, 1981, pg. 293.]

Words to Live By: Caution keeps one from being too critical about Dr. Beecher and his family. They certainly had their problems, but our own lives are often equally messy. But that one comment, that “theology had never been Dr. Beecher’s strong point,” is a telling one [and ironic, given his post at the seminary], and perhaps it serves well to point out just how much we need the strong mooring of good theology. Good theology, after all, is nothing more than a right understanding of what Scripture teaches. And good theology is well taught in the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Which is why we have been careful to include it as part of our daily blog. We hope you are making good use of it.

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Image source: Clipping from an undetermined source which appears to have been part of a promotional advertisement for a work on the life of Dr. Beecher. Scanned by the staff of the PCA Historical Center.

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