Scriptures Ezekiel

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He Seemed But a Little Boy

It was only a year before that Archibald Alexander had been taken under care of the Presbytery of Lexington, Virginia.  He was young and extremely small in stature.  In our day, such a move of spiritual oversight is usually granted by a Presbytery after it has heard your personal testimony, what God has done for you in Christ in your spiritual life, and an expression of your call to the ministry.  In the eighteenth century however, it included all  that, no doubt, and also a sermon preached over the presbytery.

On that occasion in 1890, the month of October, Archibald Alexander stood before the esteemed member of this presbytery.  The fact that a candidate before him had utterly failed to utter anything approaching a sermon, much less give any orderly address, didn’t seem to faze him.  He stood up, without any idea of what he was going to say, and delivered an exhortation which astonished everyone present.    In fact, after that occasion, he delivered “exhortation” after “exhortation” several times a week.

In the spring of 1791, Alexander was examined by the Presbytery of Lexington in his Latin and Greek knowledge.  He had prepared an exegesis upon an assigned topic, and read it to the brethren.  He delivered a speech to the Presbytery as well.  It was then moved that he be assigned a text to preach at the next meeting of the Lexington Presbytery.

At that time, on September 20, 1791, the time had arrived for his proclamation before his elders, both in age and office, on the assigned theme, which was Jeremiah 1:7, “Say not, I am a child.”   And indeed, he seemed but a little boy, but the effect of his trial sermon, quickly put that to rest.  There was authority in the proclamation of the Word of God.  It was no wonder then that at the next presbytery meeting in Winchester, he was licensed to preach the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.

Words to live by:  If you have an opportunity, attend a Presbytery meeting as a visitor soon, especially one in which a candidate is brought under care, or licensed for the gospel ministry, or ordained by one of our conservative presbyteries.  You will see the care which the church gives to its candidates, that they be sound in doctrine, proficient in the Westminster Standards, and practical in their understanding of their calling.  It will be a day well spent.

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

Home School Education in the Nineteenth Century

They are still being used today!  McGuffey Readers, that is.  But what an important force they have had from the early days of our land up to the present.  In a day when modern textbooks are known to tear down what is right about America and Christian values, the McGuffey Readers would instead reflect the values of hard work, industry, honesty, loyalty, Sabbatarianism, and temperance, or in other words, exactly what is needed today in our modern society.

Their name comes from William Holmes McGuffey, who was born on September 23, 1800.  From an early age, he demonstrated a prodigious command of both languages and literature.  Educated by his mother in their home and schooled in Latin, as was the practice then, by a Presbyterian minister, William committed large passages of the Bible to memory.  Eventually he studied at Washington College in Lexington, Virginia (now Washington and Lee University) which was an early Presbyterian college.  He graduated with honors from the college in 1826.

William McGuffey was licensed to preach by the Presbyterian Church, and although we cannot find his name associated with any local church, he preached regularly, delivering some 3000 messages by his own account.  His ministry was in education, serving as president and professor at five different colleges and universities.

He would be remembered primarily for his Eclectic Readers, though afterwards those readers were more commonly called by his name, and they had a profound influence on American public education for over two centuries.  He died in 1873, but like the prophets of old, being dead, he yet speaks through these remarkable readers for young ages.

Words to live by:  The proverbs of old told us to “train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (KJV – Proverbs 22:6)   That is as true today as it was when it was first written down in holy Scripture.  The Hebrew word for “train up” speaks of “across the roof of.”  It referred to the practice of birthing when the midwife would spread the olive juice across the roof of the mouth of the just born infant, teaching that infant how to draw milk from the mother’s breast.  It therefore came to mean
“create a desire for.”  Christian dads and moms, you are to be the instrument of the Holy Spirit to create a desire for spiritual things in the hearts and minds of your children.  By being faithful to do this, you can then claim the general promise of this favorite text.

Through the Scriptures:  Ezekiel 40 – 42

Through the Standards:  Various kinds of oaths

WCF 22:1
“A lawful oath is part of religious worship, wherein, upon just occasion, the person swearing solemnly calls to God to witness what he asserts, or promises, and to judge him according to the truth of falsehood of what he swears.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:  

The Westminster Standards are the Standards of the Presbyterian Church

We have already considered the meeting which took place in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania which stopped an impending schism in the infant Presbyterian Church by The Adopting Act of 1729, as was presented on September 17. But there was another important commitment made by the infant church as part of this multi-day meeting on this day, September 19, 1729.  And it was the adoption by the presbyters of this American Presbyterian Church of the Westminster Standards (together, the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Larger Catechism and the Shorter Catechism) as their subordinate standard, behind that of Scripture itself, as their required standard for ordination.

The exact words as taken from the Minutes of that Presbytery meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, were the following:  “we are undoubtedly obliged to take care that the faith once delivered to the saints be kept pure and uncorrupt among us, and so handed down to our posterity; and do therefore agree that all the ministers of this Synod, or that shall hereafter be admitted into this Synod, shall declare their agreement in, and approbation of, the Confession of Faith, with the Larger and Shorter Catechisms of the Assembly of Divines at Westminster, as being in all the essential and necessary articles, good forms of sound words and systems of Christian doctrine, and so also adopt the said Confession and Catechisms as the confession of our faith. And we do also agree, that all the Presbyteries within our bounds shall always take care not to admit any candidate of the ministry into the exercise of the sacred function but what declares his agreement in opinion with all the essential and necessary articles of said Confession, either by subscribing the said Confession of Faith and Catechisms, or by a verbal declaration of their assent thereto, as such minister or candidate shall think best.”

It might surprise our readers to think that a full twenty-two years after the first Presbytery in 1707, finally such a doctrinal commitment was made by the infant Presbyterian church.  But this is not to say that the ministers who made up this church did not automatically confess this subscription. Remember, the first page of the 1707 minutes were lost to history.  It well might have been part and parcel of that document.  Further, while not found in subsequent recorded minutes, all of the ministers had confessed their faith in the mother countries by subscription to the Westminster Standards. Up to this time in the colonies, their attention was taken up with church extension and government.  But finally, the historic creed which had fed the faith of the Presbyterian Church for three hundred years is made the foundation of the infant Presbyterian church in America.                                                                                      

Words to live by:  A historic document is made the subordinate standard of an infant church.  All ministers, past, present, and future, are to receive and adopt it before they can be ordained.  The young church is placed on a Reformed foundation.  While members must hold to a credible profession of faith, they know  that the preaching and teaching will be the depth and historical content of  the greatest theological statement ever produced by godly men. This is why we have included the Confession and catechisms in this historical devotional guide.  Read and ponder its words. Memorize its shorter catechism answers.  This writer has done so, and it has enabled him to stand in the test of perilous times.

Through the Scriptures: Ezekiel 28 – 30

Through the Standards:  The sixth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, according to the Shorter Catechism  

WSC 106 “What do we pray for in the sixth petition?”
A.  In the sixth petition, (which is, And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,) we pray, That God would either keep us from being tempted to sin, or support and deliver us when we are tempted.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History

A Potential Schism Halted by a Compromise

Initially there was no real problem with the written standards for the Presbyterian Church in America. Ministerial students were simply tested for their learning and soundness in the faith.  But a controversy in the mother country soon changed this.  So the question arose, should teaching and ruling elders be required to subscribe to the subordinate standards of the Westminster Assembly in their entirety, or just for their essential truths?  The fact that so many officers were still in the process of emigrating to the colonies made this a relevant question for the infant church to resolve.

Conscious of the potential for schism, on September 17, 1729, Jonathan Dickinson became the main proponent against the total subscriptionist party in the church.  His argument was simple.  He believed the Bible was the sufficient rule for faith and life.  Subscription must be adhered to it and to it alone, not to some man-made summary of it, as good as it might be.

The total subscriptionist side also believed the Bible was all-sufficient for doctrine and life, but were equally convinced that the Westminster standards of confession and catechisms offer an adequate summary of the Old and New Testaments.  To receive it and adopt it in its entirely would stop any heresies which may invade the church from either within or without the church.

At the synod in 1729, Dickinson and his followers won the day with what has become known at the Adopting Act of 1729.  The document stated that on the one hand, there was a clear requirement to receive and adopt the Westminster Standards.  However, if an elder, whether teaching or ruling elder, had an exception to those standards, he was to make known to the church or presbytery his exception.  The latter body would then judge whether the exception dealt with essential and necessary articles of doctrine, worship, or government. If it did not, then he could be ordained without official censure or social ostracism.

The entire body of elders gathered at the Philadelphia Synod gave thanks to God in solemn praise and prayer that the resolution of this potential schism had been averted and unity was maintained in the infant Presbyterian church.

Words to live by:  It is always good that disunity should be avoided and unity be maintained.  But at what cost, is the question?   The compromise here looked good on the surface.  But presbyteries and synods and assemblies are made up of fallible men who can, sadly, declare that the basic truths of the Christian religion are not necessary to be held, as is the case now with several liberal Presbyterian bodies.   Obviously, much prayer must be made for those who instruct and rule over us, that God’s Spirit will keep the visible church pure in both faith and life. The true key to doctrinal unity springs from a daily awareness of our own sinfulness, from hearts broken before the Lord in godly humility, Seeking the forgiveness found in Jesus Christ alone.

See also, The Meaning of Subscrption, by Rev. Benjamin McKee Gemmill.

Through the Scriptures: Ezekiel 22 – 24

Through the Standards:  The fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, according to the Shorter Catechism

WSC 105  “What do we pray for in the fifth petition?
A.  In the fifth petition, (which is, And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,) we pray, That God, for Christ’s sake, would freely pardon all our sins; which we are the rather encouraged to ask, because by his grace we are enabled from the heart to forgive others.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

The Practice of Repentance

With little action by Presbyterians in America on this day, we turn on this day, September 15,  to Shorter Catechism No. 87 which asks and answers “What is repentance unto life?  A.  Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ Jesus, does, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience.”

The last catechism we considered, which was on September 4, and dealt with the definition of saving grace, and this one on repentance, are linked in that they are twin graces.  Faith must precede repentance however in the order of nature. The writer to the book of Hebrews said in chapter 11:6 that “without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” (ESV) Saving faith comes first, but repentance unto life is so closely connected with it in the sinner’s experience, that we may not be able to separate them in a concise way.

Repentance is unto life. The Messianic Jews in Acts 11:18 rejoiced that as a result of Peter’s ministry to the Gentiles, “God had granted repentance that leads to life.” (ESV)  Further it is “a saving grace,” in that it is the free gift of God. The previous text in Acts 11 speaks of “God granting repentance.”  He is the author of repentance.

Repentance comes first from the knowledge of sin and in particular his sin.   It is “out of a true sense of his sin” that repentance comes. A true repentant, under the enlightening of the Holy Spirit, views sin, and his sin, not only dangerous to his soul, but also odious because it is contrary to the holy nature and righteous law of God.  Further, repentance  is followed by “an apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ.” Because of who Christ is, and what He accomplished in our redemption, we as sinners can have the mercy of God upon us.

The two ingredients of repentance include first “a grief and hatred of sin,” and our sin in particular. The godly sorrow of the penitent is for his sin committed against God, as rebellion against his rightful authority, as a violation of His holy law, and certainly as an ungrateful return for all His goodness. It includes a hatred of sin. The Psalmist David stated in Psalm 119:128 that he hated “every false way.”  As a result of this, the repentant person “returns from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience.”  True repentance results in actions which are now pleasing to God.

Words to live by:  Repentance includes small sins and great sins. It includes general sins and particular sins.  We need to include confession of sins in every prayer we pray to the heavenly Father. Confession attests the sincerity of repentance. There must be a complete change of mind and manner of life in biblical repentance.

Through the Scriptures: Ezekiel 15 – 18

Through the Standards:  The fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, according to the Shorter Catechism.

WSC 104 — “What do we pray for in the fourth petition?
A.  In the fourth petition, (which is, Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,) we pray, that God, for Christ’s sake, would freely pardon all our sins; which we are the rather encouraged to ask, because by his grace we are enabled from the heart to forgive others.”

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