The nation’s first Presbyterian church, organized specifically for African Americans, was located in Philadelphia and it was organized in 1807. But it was on this day, January 13th, in 1822, that what was sometimes labled the First Colored Presbyterian Church of New York City, or officially the New Demeter Street Presbyterian Church, was organized, with an initial congregation of twenty four members. The Rev. Samuel E. Cornish served as the organizing pastor, though despite his earnest efforts, the congregation’s early years were fraught with setbacks. First they lost their building, that had been built at a cost of $14,000, and then they lost their pastor in 1828, due to his declining health.
Samuel Eli Cornish [1795-1858], (pictured above), labored as a Presbyterian pastor, was an ardent opponent of slavery, and in 1827 became one of the two editors of Freedom’s Journal, the nation’s first newspaper owned and operated by African Americans. He also served as a founding member of the American Anti-Slavery Society (established in 1833), and held important positions within the American Bible Society and the American Missionary Association.
The next man called by the congregation in 1829 was the Rev. Theodore S. Wright (pictured at right), trained in part at Princeton Seminary and licensed to preach by the Presbytery of Albany. Under his leadership the congregation was able to obtain the former German Lutheran church at Frankfort and William Streets and from that time forward, until Rev. Wright’s death in 1847, the congregation prospered.
Together with Samuel Cornish, Rev. Wright was in 1833 one of the founders of the American Anti-Slavery Society, and served on its executive committee until 1840. Leaving that post, he next worked with fellow abolitionists to begin the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, and also served to chair the New York Vigilance Committee which worked to prevent the kidnapping of free blacks who were then being sold into slavery. In conjunction with these efforts, he opened his home as a station on the Underground Railroad.
Of the Rev. Wright, one of his closest friends said of him,
“This devout man of God, ever in the service of his Divine Master, the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, of humble yet unyielding faith, full of the Holy Ghost, both as a preacher and a doer of the word, always interested, in season and out of season, in the religious state of his friends and parishioners, whose kindly voice would break in upon, no matter what discussion, with the inquiry, ‘Brother, do you enjoy religion?’ ‘Do you love Jesus Christ?’ An abolitionist of the purest water and most devoted zeal, this worthy minister cherished a warm interest in the necessity for educating to the fullest extent capable colored youth as a means of elevating his people.”
Words To Live By:
Time does not permit us here to tell at length their full stories, and I hope you will search out the matter further and read more about Rev. Cornish and Rev. Wright. There is much that we can learn from their ministries, and I don’t pretend that we have done them justice with the above brief account, other than to make you aware of them.
Do you love the Lord Jesus Christ? Is there a more important question? It is only when we are drawn to Christ and find forgiveness of our own sin that we can then offer hope and resolution to a sin-sick world. But lest those words become glib, remember that the Christian life is a sacrificial life, meant to be expended on behalf of others as we point a dying world to the only true Savior. The cost is real, but so is the Life.
On December 5, 1973, the second day of the first General Assembly was underway for the National Presbyterian Church. In fact, it was on this second day of that General Assembly that the original name of the denomination was chosen. A year later the young denomination voted to change its name, choosing the name Presbyterian Church in America.
Shortly after the formation of the Presbyterian Church in America, Dr. Francis A. Schaeffer composed the following thoughts in observance of that event. Notable in his mind was the contrast between the divisions of the 1930’s and the 1970’s and the manner in which each of these divisions had been conducted. Dr. Schaeffer’s message, titled “A Step Forward”, was subsequently published in THE PRESBYTERIAN JOURNAL, 6 March 1974, pages 7-8.
Photo source: Picture taken from the February 1973 issue of One in Christ, the Bulletin of the National Presbyterian and Reformed Fellowship.
“A STEP FORWARD”
The formation of the National Presbyterian Church is a step forward in the Lord’s work in our chaotic age!
As a life-long Presbyterian and now a minister of the Reformed Presbyterian Church Evangelical Synod, I have had a deep interest in the Presbyterian Church US since my days at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia, from which I graduated in 1935.
Even at that time it was evident that Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Va., was a source of liberalism in the pulpits of the PCUS. Through the years I have seen no sign that the situation is improving.
To me, practicing the principle of the purity of the visible Church is a part of the command of the word of God. In the PCUS, good men have tried unsuccessfully to practice this principle by combating clearly false teachings at the center of Christian truth. These include the older rationalistic liberalism and the new neo-orthodox, existential liberalism. After having failed to bring purity into the Church, they chose the only way to be obedient–they practiced the principle in reverse and withdrew.
Thirty-eight years ago such a division occurred in the Northern Presbyterian Church. Those in the Presbyterian Church US have showed more than long patience in their efforts to bring improvements in their Church from within. However, the formation of the National Presbyterian Church should not be seen as the ending but a beginning.
It would be tragic if the National Presbyterian Church made the same mistakes which were made in the Presbyterian Church in the North. True brethren who have not felt led by the Lord to leave the PCUS should be treated with dignity and a loving beauty. There are two reasons for this:
First, Jesus taught that the mark of the Christian is the observable love shown among all true believers. Second, by keeping the lines open to these men–not as a stratagem but as loving obedience to Christ’s commands–the National Presbyterian Church will continue to offer a viable alternative. In the days ahead, the pressures will increase through the further growth of liberal control and the almost certain coming union with the United Presbyterian Church USA. I pray that mistakes made years ago in the North will not be repeated today.
The vision of the National Presbyterian Church should not end here. We must keep our distinctives as to the Reformed position, which we believe are true to the Scripture, and it should be natural to have close contacts with other true Presbyterian bodies. The chasm should not be at the point of our distinctives; it should be between Bible-believing Christians and those who have given up loyalty to the Scripture.
Two things are happening simultaneously now: The first is a resurgency for Christian truth. Going back to the 1930’s in the United States, the larger historic denominations were largely lost to the liberals, but three were not: The Lutheran Church-Missiouri Synod, the Christian Reformed Church, and the Southern Baptists. Thirty-five years later, these three denominations are now grappling with the same issues, all of which are rooted in the question of the authority of Scripture.
The Missouri Synod under the leadership of courageous men seems to have won its battle. The Southern Baptist Church now finds itself in the same position as the Presbyterian Church US in the 1930’s. That is, the churchmen are largely faithful, but the seminaries are infiltrated with liberalism.
One may hope and pray that the Baptists will stir themselves before it is too late. If the Baptists practice the principle of the purity of the visible Church in the direction the Missouri Synod has gone, then they may not have to travel the unhappy route of withdrawal as had to be done in the Southern Presbyterian Church.
Doors and Bridges
The National Presbyterian Church stands at a place of significance if the doors are kept open on one side to the true believers in the Presbyterian Church, and bridges are built toward those struggling for the same cause in other groups. However, at this time the question is not the formation merely of an organization; it is the establishment of a true Church.
The failure of those who separated from the Presbyterian Church USA during the 1930’s extended beyond the loss of contact with those true Christians who stayed in the Church; it extended to the attempted organizational expression. The International Council of Christian Churches gave such hope in its beginning, failed because of its harshness; it did not express or practice that mark of the Christian, the observable love among all true Christians.
There the question now is whether 35 years are enough to expunge this mistake so that another organization is viable at this time. The leaders in the National Presbyterian Church should consciously try to establish contacts with those who are true to the Scripture and committed to the practice of the purity of the visible Church in whatever groups they may be. Certainly groups in other countries would be interested in such contacts.
The second important occurrence now is the obverse, unhappy side of the first. At the same time we take heart from the formation of the National Presbyterian Church and events in the Lutheran Church-Missiouri Synod, we recognize a most distressing trend is developing: In much of evangelicalism regard for Scripture is weakening.
It is my observation that ecclesiastical latitudinarianism leads to cooperative latitudinarianism, and this tends to lead to doctrinal deviation, especially in regard to Scripture.
For example, think of the change at Fuller Theological Seminary. In a paper read at Wheaton College a few years ago, Professor Daniel Fuller defined “non-revelational matters” in the Scripture as those which are “capable of being checked out by human investigation, that is, knowable by what eye can see and ear can hear.” He added that the Bible contains “the non-revelational areas of science and history.”
This kind of thinking is not limited to one seminary. The battleground on the modern scene is whether the Bible is completely authoritative where it touches history and the cosmos, or only where it touches religious matters. It is difficult to see any basic difference between this and neo-orthodox existential theology.
The divergence in evangelical groups centers especially in the first half of Genesis, which is often considered to be parable rather than space-time history. The weakening among evangelicals is not limited to the United States; it is present in other parts of the world as well.
In England, preference tends to be given for general revelation over special revelation, so that science has the last voice. This is different in expression, but not in position, from that being developed theologically by Professor Fuller and those in the United States who are one with him.
If Christ does not come back within the next few years, I could visualize the possibility of a new alignment. Those standing for the total authority of all Scripture and for the principle of the practice of the purity of the visible Church would draw together and away from relativism, which surrounds us in the total culture and which has infiltrated the Church.
In such a setting, the National Presbyterian Church may in God’s providence be a central factor if it exhibits and practices God’s holiness in life and doctrine, and simultaneously exhibits and practices God’s love toward all true Christians in whatever groups they are.
I am thankful for the formation of the National Presbyterian Church and I pray no small or provincial vision for it.
Our post today is drawn from the Minutes of the 156th General Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (1978), pp. 122-123, and from the BULLETIN of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions, vol. 6, nos. 3-5 (March-May 1940), page 26.
Dr. T. Norton Sterrett was born in Persia of missionary parents, November 10, 1912. After the age of two, he grew up in the United States. He received the B.A. from Columbia Bible College and from Wheaton College, and the Th.D. from Dallas Theological Seminary.
He was married in 1938 to Eloise Fain and two children were born to this marriage, Eloise Anne and Gerald Fain. He and his family went to India as missionaries under the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions in 1939. In the initial work in India, he engaged in general village and city evangelism and Bible teaching.
Following the year of 1949, Dr. Sterrett worked among the college students of India under the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students. Since 1954 he has carried on similar work under the Union of Evangelical Students of India. He was the Director of the Asian Bible Study Center of South India from 1967 through 1972. One of his fellow workers in India says:
“Dr. Sterrett had a commitment to India as a servant of the Indian people in true humility. He never tried to impose foreign structures or cultural values on the Indian Church or Indian people. … He had a consistent and steady burden for Bible teaching which would generate Bible students who could teach others. . . . Their interest was further than the students of India. The Indian church at large and other evangelical bodies were within their concern. . . . Let me thank IFES for sending such a faithful ambassador of the Gospel. . .
After 36 years of service in India, the Sterretts returned to the United States (1975) and he worked on the staff of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at Nyack, N.Y., from July, 1975, until his death. A host of Indian Christians, as well as members of the body of Christ around the world, thank God for the faithfulness of His servant, T. Norton Sterrett.
The following is a portion of a letter sent back from the mission field by Rev. Sterrett:—
Cawnpore, U. P., India.
Feb. 24, 1940.
“We come to tell you the right way to hold your noses.” This may seem queer sort of language to use in preaching the Gospel, and yet those are nearly the exact words used by our language teacher, Mr. Das, not long ago, when speaking to a group of Indian villagers. Why? Well when we had talked to them of the way of salvation through Christ one of them spoke up to say that what we said might be true but it didn’t make much difference; one could hold his nose by reaching from the front with one hand or else by reaching around his head with the other; it is the same nose. That is to say, perhaps one can have salvation through Christ, but we can also reach God through Hinduism, through Islam, or anything else. This is an all too prevalent idea, for Hinduism seems able to absorb nearly anything else and still call it Hinduism. But oh, the solemnity of the words, “There is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.”
Words to Live By:
Indeed, there is no other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved (Acts 4:12). Salvation belongs to the Lord. It is His alone to bestow, and He has declared that His only provision is through the shed blood of His Son, Jesus our Messiah. We believe this, but are we living accordingly? Are we living out our remaining days in such a way that we declare, both in word and deed, the truth of these words?
A Marked Influence in Ecclesiastical Matters
by David T. Myers
For the next two years, your two authors will feature a number of posts about the remarkable Breckinridge family, a family which, for our purposes, began with Alexander Breckinridge who had moved to Philadelphia around 1728, eventually relocating to the colony of Virginia. Members of the Breckinridge family were prominent as ministers and theologians and church leaders and politicians in nation and state, and soldiers and businessmen and women, and more often than not, they were Presbyterians in conviction and practice. Today, on the date of his birthday, November 3, 1828, we focus in on Samuel Miller Breckinridge.
Son of John Breckinridge, who was a Presbyterian minister, young Samuel had as his mother that of Margaret Miller, the daughter of the Rev. Samuel Miller, yes, that Samuel Miller, who was an early professor of the Princeton Theological Seminary. So it is no wonder that her maiden name became his middle name, as in Samuel Miller Breckinridge.
Samuel was educated at Union College, New York and Centre College, Kentucky, and finally at the College of New Jersey at Princeton, New Jersey [later renamed Princeton University in 1896]. He completed his studies at the graduate law school at Transylvania University at Lexington Kentucky.
Settling in St. Louis, Missouri, he represented the city and county in the Missouri Legislature for one year in 1854 – 55. He continued to move up in important positions in the state as he was elected the judge of Circuit Court in 1863. In the same year, he was chosen a member of the State Convention.
We might be tempted to think that he only had an influence in political matters, but his membership in the Second Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, Missouri was recognized when that local church elected him to serve as a ruling elder in 1871. Three years later, he served as a commissioner to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church when it met in the city. He became a member of the Committee of Fraternal Relations, and was appointed to try and meet with the elders in the Presbyterian Church in the United States, formerly the Presbyterian Church of the Confederacy.
His church position continued to give him opportunities within that denomination as he was a member of the General Assembly’s Committee on Revision of the Book of Discipline in 1878, and he continued to serve as a commissioner at the General Assembly as it met in 1881 and 1883.
A description of him was that he was a model Christian gentleman, wise in counsel, with a marked influence in ecclesiastical matters. He died in 1891.
Words to Live By:
May it be said of all of us that we either are having or will have a marked influence in ecclesiastical matters. Your local church may indeed need that at this time in her history. As the post Christian century continues in our land, we will certainly need that characteristic more and more in the local and national areas. Pray for it if you don’t have it now, or pray for an increase of that character. The Holy Spirit will bless you in it, and give you many opportunities to use it in the days in which we live.
Image source: Page 97 in the Encyclopædia of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, including the Northern and Southern Assemblies, by Alfred Nevin. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Encyclopedia Publishing Co., 1884.
So claimed Rev. Harry Rimmer. In his book Crossed Fingers, Dr. Gary North notes that on the day J. Gresham Machen died, the funeral for Rev. Arthur Perkins was held in Wisconsin. Perkins had died just three days prior to Machen’s passing. A year prior he had been in good health.
The Rev. Leslie A. Dunn, converted under the ministry of Rev. Perkins, paid tribute to him and told the story of his ministry, his conflict, and his death:
One who has for many years taken an uncompromising stand for the truths of the Gospel has gone to his reward. The Rev. Arthur F. Perkins did not enter the ministry until he was almost thirty years of age. Following conversion, he immediately gave up his former occupation and entered Christian service, witnessing to the saving and keeping power of the Lord Jesus Christ in out-of-the-way places in Central Wisconsin, where many found Jesus Christ as personal Savior through his tireless efforts and challenging messages.
[Following a first pastorate in Milwaukee], Mr. Perkins was called by the largest Presbytery in Wisconsin to become Field Director of that Presbytery, ministering to pastorless churches and working among unordained missionaries in twenty-one counties of central and northern Wisconsin. Hundreds found in Christ their salvation through Mr. Perkins, and many struggling churches under his supervision took on new life and became independent of Presbytery for their financial support.
Because Mr. Perkins always vigorously opposed Modernism and any kind of compromise with error or worldliness, he had much opposition. Because he encouraged young people to attend Wheaton College instead of the Presbyterian College nearby, he was criticized severely by the powers that be.
Because of his faithfulness to his Lord in these stewardship matters, there were those who sought to oust Mr. Perkins from his field directorship, even though it had never thrived as it had under his leadership. When Mr. Perkins opposed the ordination of two men who denied the virgin birth of Jesus Christ, he made his enemies more determined to oust him.
That he was not a seminary trained man was one pretext given for seeking his release from the responsible position he held. Other pretexts failed until he organized the Crescent Lake Bible Fellowship, where young people were enabled to attend a strictly sound summer conference at less than half the cost advertised by the other two conferences in the state. Although there was no Presbyterian conference in his Presbytery, still they insisted he disorganize this independent camp and disown it altogether. He refused to do so and brought much opposition against himself, resulting in his trial for insubordination. Presbytery’s judicial commission suspended him from the ministry for two years. Although he appealed the case to Synod and to General Assembly, he observed his suspension, and for months refrained from preaching and exercising the prerogatives of a minister. It was a long, hard strain, with added financial burdens because of the ecclesiastical trials. Dr. Harry Rimmer was his counsel and labored much for him. His people in the Merrill, Wisconsin congregation stood by him courageously with their sympathy, prayers and financial help.
When the General Assembly ousted him, with others, from the ministry last June (1936), he came back to Philadelphia and was one among thirty-five ministers who organized the Presbyterian Church of America [later renamed Orthodox Presbyterian Church]. He then returned to Wisconsin, and in Merrill a large number of people renounced the jurisdiction of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. and asked him to minister to them. The work in Merrill progressed; and Mr. Perkins spoke in many surrounding towns on the doctrinal crisis in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. It was then that he had a nervous breakdown that resulted finally in his death on December 29.
The Lord has wonderfully used this man of God who refused to compromise with worldliness or error, or to soften his message to please men, and refused to listen to the counsels of men in order to win their votes in the councils of the Church, when it meant a denial of his Lord. May God’s sustaining grace be with his widow and three children surviving him!
Words to Live By:
The Rev. John J. DeWaard, of Cedar Grove, Wisconsin, brought the sermon at the funeral of Rev. Perkins. His concluding words drove home the abiding heart concern of Perkins’s ministry:
To be saved is so great a thing that no man can earn it whatever he might do, and certainly no sinner could earn it. For the sinner by nature cannot do anything well pleasing unto God. I need only remind you that the word “save” means healing. It is a healing of body and soul alike. To be saved is to be delivered from this world of sin; to be saved is to be translated into our Father’s House with its many mansions. Salvation is the redemption of soul and body from the guilt and power of sin. The saved soul rejoices in the blessed assurance that all sin is forgiven for the Saviour’s sake, and the saved body, “being still united to Christ does rest in the grave until the resurrection.” Comprehensively, but simply, the Bible defines salvation in the terms, “I will be your God, and ye shall be my people.” God is not a God of the dead but of the living. Such is the promise of the Bible, and God’s Word cannot be broken. Such is the promise of our Lord who died on the cross that this promise might become a reality to those who trust only in His name.
Mr. Perkins would want me to ask you a serious question: Are you saved? Will you by the strength of the Lord endure to the end, and keep the faith?
Of Archival Interest:
Through the generous donation of Rev. Robert Smallman, former pastor of the Bible Presbyterian Church, Merrill, Wisconsin, where Rev. Perkins was the organizing pastor, the PCA Historical Center holds what constitutes the papers of the Rev. Arthur Perkins. The collection is small, consisting of 27 folders, with about half the materials concerning the ecclesiastical trial brought against Perkins by the Winnebago Presbytery.
Dr. Woolley’s series of articles on Presbyterians in America continues today with a focus on the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the Bible Presbyterian Church. Our Monday and Tuesday posts will conclude this series. Do keep in mind that these articles were written in the early 1950s and so much has changed since that time. V […]
We continue today with Dr. Woolley’s series of articles on Presbyterians in America. Do keep in mind that these articles were written in the early 1950s and so much has changed since that time. Tomorrow’s post will focus on the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the Bible Presbyterian Church. Presbyterians in Americaby Rev. Paul Woolley IV […]
We continue today with Dr. Woolley’s series of articles on Presbyterians in America. Do keep in mind that these articles were written in the early 1950s and so much has changed since that time. Presbyterians in Americaby Rev. Paul Woolley III – The Presbyterian Church in the United States [Reformed Presbyterian Advocate, 85.12 (December 1951): […]
We continue today with Dr. Woolley’s series of articles on Presbyterians in America. Do keep in mind that these articles were written in the early 1950s and so much has changed since that time. Presbyterians in Americaby Rev. Paul Woolley Part II – The Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. [first published in The Reformed Presbyterian […]
Yesterday we ran a post with a genealogical chart of Presbyterian denominations in North America. As it was from the 1950s, it’s dated, but adequate to provide the basic scheme of things. (see the embedded link).Today we begin with Part 1 in Dr. Paul Woolley’s brief series on Presbyterian denominations in North America. Presbyterians in […]
This week we will be presenting a series of articles by the Rev. Dr. Paul Woolley [1902-1984], who served as professor of church history at the Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, from the start of that school in 1929 until his retirement in 1977. This series of articles appeared on the pages of The Reformed Presbyterian […]
“The day in which we live, and the present circumstances which the people of God and these nations are under, do loudly proclaim a very great necessity of being in this broken and tender frame; for who can foresee what will be the issue of these violent fermentations that are amongst us?” Returning after a […]
Westminster Confession Approved by Church of Scotlandby Rev. David T. Myers You may ask upon reading the title of this contribution, why are we thinking about adoption of the Westminster Confession of Faith, when the whole This Day in Presbyterian History blog deals with Presbyterian history in the United States? And that is a fair question. But it is quickly answered […]
REVEREND THOMAS HART LAW, D. D., was born in Hartsville, Darlington county, South Carolina, August 26, 1838, the son of Thomas Cassels and Mary Westfield Law. His father was a successful planter, systematic, untiring in effort, and a public-spirited citizen. He held no public positions but those of country postmaster and commissioner of public schools. He […]
This blog is sponsored by the Historical Center of the Presbyterian Church in America, or more commonly, the PCA Historical Center. Our denomination came out of the old Southern Presbyterian Church, and it seems only right that we should know something of that earlier Church, its character, nature, faults and strengths. One instance of that […]