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A Great Loss for Westminster Seminary

wilsonrw02The new orthodox seminary, Westminster, had only been open for two weeks on October 11, 1930, when one of the premier faculty members of that theological institution, and before that, Princeton Theological Seminary,  Dr. Robert Dick Wilson, died suddenly.  He had been blessed with excellent health most of his teaching career.  But after a brief week of illness, he went into the presence of the Lord.

This writer’s father, who studied under Dr. Wilson at Princeton from 1927 to 1929, told me that Robert Dick Wilson planned his life in three phases. Phase one was to learn all the extant languages of, or related to, the Scriptures. And he did have a working knowledge somewhere between twenty-five and forty-five languages (accounts vary). The second phase was to study all the higher critical attacks upon the Bible. And the last phase was publish in defending the Scriptures against all of those higher critical attacks upon the sacred Word. It was with regards to this last phase that he commented that he had come to the conviction that no man knows enough to attack the veracity of the Old Testament.

One humorous incident in his teaching career at Princeton was the time that a woman had enrolled in his class. One day, as was usually the case, he was disheveled in his attire when he came to class. Often the suspenders which held up his pants would be pinned by two safety pins. Teaching animatedly, the two pins became undone with the result that his pants slid to the floor. Embarrassed immensely, and sliding down to raise his pants again,  he could only cry out “Where is Mrs. Jennings? Where is she?,” fearing she was in class in the back row. When told that the lone woman in question had cut his class to study in the library, Dr. Wilson responded, “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow.”

Words to live by:  Why would an accomplished scholar like Dr. Robert Dick Wilson leave his life calling at Princeton Seminary in 1929 to go to a brand new theological institution where there was no guarantee of funds for either teaching or retirement?  The answer is that Dr. Wilson knew that a person cannot have God’s richest blessings, even in teaching the truth, when the opportunity to teach that truth is gained by corruption of principles.  And the reorganization of Princeton’s Board of Trustees with two members who had signed the Auburn Affirmation was just that, a corruption of principles.  May we take a similar stand for righteousness, regardless of the outcome to our lives.

For further study: The PCA Historical Center, which hosts This Day in Presbyterian History, houses among its many collections the Papers of Dr. Robert Dick Wilson. As one means of promoting that collection, the Historical Center has posted a number of articles about Dr. Wilson on its web site, and these can be found here.

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As we approach the end of the academic year, and seminaries around the country will be sending out their graduates into pulpits, ministries and other pursuits, it seemed good today to revisit the following post from this date in 2012. On a note of encouragement, consider how far we have come in the past 83 years. In 1930, there were arguably just three solidly conservative Presbyterian seminaries—Westminster, Erskine, and the Reformed Presbyterian Seminary in Pittsburgh. Today there are over thirty. Some are small institutions, others relatively large, all are sending graduates out into the world to take up various positions of ministry in God’s expanding kingdom:—

An Historic Commencement Address

Macartney, Clarence EdwardTalk about history being made!  The first ever commencement address delivered to the  student body of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania took place on May 6, 1930.  The speaker was the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Clarence Edward Macartney.  He was a member of the board of this new seminary, besides being known as a conservative in the issues confronting the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.

In his address, after looking at the approaching  state of the church from the standpoint of its adherence to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, Dr. Macartney focused the attention of the students on the very existence of this new seminary.  Listen to his words:

“The founding of Westminster Seminary, therefore, has a peculiar and definite meaning at this critical day in the history of Christianity.

“In the first place, its establishment is a protest against the action of the church in dissolving the Board of Directors of Princeton Seminary, and practically ejecting them for loyalty to the truth.

“In the second place, the establishment of Westminster Seminary is a warning to the Presbyterian Church against the danger of being completely submerged in the tide of neo-Christianity which threatens to engulf the whole Protestant church.  This seminary is a watchman on the wall, proclaiming with no uncertain trumpet that an enemy is in our midst.

“In the third place, the establishment of this seminary is a witness to the Bible as the Word of God, a notification to the world that we believe in the Bible, both as to its facts and its doctrines, and are confident that both facts and doctrines are capable of reasoned, thoughtful, and scholarly defense.

“In the  fourth place, this Seminary is founded as a witness to the saving power of the glorious gospel of the blessed God and of our Lord Jesus Christ.   This Seminary shall stand as a token of our earnest conviction that the gospel of Christ is the alone hope of a lost and fallen race.

“In the fifth place, Westminster Seminary is founded as a token of our faith in the rejuvenescence of evangelical Christianity, and that, as the tops of the mountains  were seen after the deluge, so after the deluge and invasion of unbelief in the Protestant church, when the angry waters shall have perished, those sacred heights of mountain tops of Sinai and Calvary shall again be revealed, and the Church shall again bow in gratitude, adoration, and love before the cross of the Eternal Christ.”

After such a reminder of the need for Westminster Seminary to exist, Dr. Macartney then reminded the students that they have been entrusted with the glorious gospel of the blessed God. It was a sacred trust, he added. He spoke about the temptation to forsake that trust, when standing alone, for example, but he encouraged them to resist that temptation and proclaim that blessed gospel.

Words to Live By: Whether we speak about a theological institution, a church, or a Christian, all of us have been entrusted with the gospel. If we won’t defend it, who will? If we won’t utter it, who will? If we forsake it, how will it be carried out? We have, all of us, been entrusted with the Gospel—it is a solemn and sacred treasure to share with all those around us, whomsoever will hear. And remember to regularly pray for these many schools that train your future pastors and missionaries. Pray that professors and students alike would maintain a godly humility in all their studies, lest sinful pride undermine all accomplishment. Pray that they would not neglect the regular habit of prayer. Pray particularly that even while students, that they would not neglect the joyful duty of sharing their faith with others.

To read the full message by Dr. Macartney, click here.

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Snapshot of a Social Gathering at Westminster

macrae05February 11, 1902 marks the birthday of Allan Alexander MacRae, whose papers are preserved at the PCA Historical Center in St. Louis. Educated at Occidental College (1923), Princeton Seminary (1927) and the University of Berlin (1929), MacRae returned to the States at the urging of Paul Woolley to serve as one of the founding faculty at Westminster Theological Seminary, where he remained 1929-1937.

Allan remained close to his parents and it is interesting to note among his papers, that he had carefully kept copies of every letter he sent home to his mother and father. And he wrote home nearly every day while away at school and even later in his new career as a professor. Transcribed below is one such letter, which provides an interesting insight into the social life of the early Westminster Seminary faculty.

Philadelphia, Pa., Oct.22, 1933.

Dear Folks,

Another week has passed by, and how it has flown.  It was quite a busy week.  There was the regular school work, there were the first classes of the year in the University and there were two special things.  These latter were the tea at the Allises last Wednesday afternoon and the party at the Wallaces on Friday evening.  Both these events were particularly pleasant.  The Allises gave a tea in honor of the Kuipers.  They invited over a hundred people.  They asked me, and the others of our faculty to stay most of the time from four to six to help entertain the visitors.  It was a very friendly reception.  Everyone was so cordial and harmonious.  Most of those who came knew most of the others.

On Friday evening the Misses Wallace, two maiden ladies who have been friends of the Seminary and have been present at most of our functions right from the start, entertained the faculty of the Seminary at their apartment in one of the suburbs.  They asked Dr.Machen to speak on mountain climbing.  He gave a very interesting talk indeed.  Then Jimmie Blackstone, who was also invited, sang several numbers for us, and one of the Misses Wallace read some poems she had written.  Dr.Kuiper was asked for a few remarks.  After that we had a spelling bee.  Most of those on the side on which I happened to be chosen were spelled down rather soon, and for a long time I was the lone survivor on our side, while the opposing team still had three standing.  These three were Dr. Machen, Paul Woolley and John Murray.  Then I put one ‘m’ too few in the word persimmon, and left the three of them alone.  So their side was victorious in the contest.  After that ice cream was served.  When we all came to leave, some one happened to look at a watch, and we could hardly believe it was actually past midnight, the evening had been so pleasant.  The only people invited who were not members of our faculty, beside Mr. and Mrs. Blackstone, were Mr. and Mrs.Freeman, whom I mentioned to you recently.  They took John Murray and me with them in their car, which was pleasant and also a great convenience
for us.

GriffithsHM1938H.M. Griffiths is having quite an unpleasant experience.  A week ago yesterday he developed a severe case of acute appendicitis, and that afternoon he was operated on.  They think the appendix might have ruptured soon if they had not taken it out.  Early this week some infection set in, so he had a disagreeable week.  I think they feel that that is pretty well over now,  I saw him yesterday.  He was quite uncomfortable, but is new getting along well, I believe.

Yesterday after faculty meeting John Murray and I went out to Germantown together and visited Griffiths.  Then John and I ate together in the neighborhood.  John had to come back to the city, as he was going right out to Oxford, Pa. to spend the week-end with one of our graduates.  I walked across Germantown to the Woolleys’ home.  I had a nice visit with Paul, and then had supper with both of them.  After supper I played a bit with Edward, who is very friendly.  Paul sat over in the corner, and seemed to have a great time, watching me playing hide and seek with Edward.  I took the train home early, leaving just as soon as I had said goodnight to Edward, so as to get a real good night’s sleep myself.

I am enjoying my beginning Hebrew classes again as much as anything I do.  I am presenting the material in a somewhat different order, and am surely enjoying it.  Early in the week my eyes bothered me a bit.  I stopped in at an optician’s and he spent a long time adjusting the glasses and the way they hung on my nose and ears.  They were hurting my nose.  Since that time, they do not hurt my nose at all, and the eyes have been very greatly improved.  Evidently they were not hanging right on my face.  I hope you are both well and happy as I am.  I will close, very lovingly,

[/s/, Allan A. MacRae]

Words to Live By:
Honour thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise; That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth. (Eph. 6:2-3, KJV)
Allan MacRae honored his parents first and foremost by himself living an honorable life before the Lord. But even in a small simple thing like frequent communication, he exhibited his care, concern, and respect for his parents. For those who are not so wise, the Lord teaches us to forgive, as we remember our own sins and failings and praise God that in Christ alone our sins are covered. But when we find a good example like Dr. MacRae, it is interesting to watch the rest of his life. Having lived long on the earth, Allan MacRae died in 1997, at the age of 95.

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