“He Did Not Die Too Soon; No Christian Ever Does.”
I remember what a shock it was, back in 1993, to hear of Ray’s death. A beloved friend and professor was seemingly snatched away in the prime of life. It is almost as jarring to realize that twenty-two years have now passed. The following obituary was written by J. Alan Groves and appeared as an insert page in the Westminster Seminary Bulletin, volume 32, no 3 (Fall 1993).
Raymond Bryan Dillard, Professor of Old Testament Language and Literature at Westminster Theological Seminary, died October 1 while working in the woods near his home. Bom in Louisville, Kentucky he was 49 years old.
Professor Dillard graduated from Westminster Seminary in 1969 and completed his Ph.D. at Dropsie College of Hebrew and Cognate Learning in 1975. He did other post-graduate work at Temple University, the University of Pennsylvania and Tel Aviv University. His teaching career spanned 24 years, all of it at Westminster. He held adjunct positions at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary and Reformed Theological Seminary and served as guest lecturer in numerous other institutions.
An exacting and careful scholar, a revered teacher, Professor Dillard was a master of classroom drama. Sought after for his lecturing gifts, he spoke throughout the United States, Europe, Israel and the Far East. Over the past five years he led lay seminars in the U.S. and Britain on the significance of the Old Testament.
The author of numerous articles and monographs, Dillard’s earliest scholarly work was as a translator of the New International Version of the Bible, the most widely selling Bible in the English language today. He was the author of a commentary on 2 Chronicles in the Word Biblical Commentary as well one on the book of Joel in the Exegetical and Expository Commentary (Baker). At the time of his death he was working on the book of Esther for the Biblia Hebraica Diplomatica, a new critical edition of the Hebrew Bible being produced (under the auspices of the United Bible Societies) by an international team of biblical scholars. He was also the co-author, with Professor Tremper Longman of Westminster Seminary, of the forthcoming Introduction to the Old Testament (Zondervan).
Chairman of the faculty for much of the past 12 years, Dillard had the respect and esteem of his colleagues older as well as younger. He was an ordained minister of the gospel in the Presbyterian Church in America and preached regularly in their churches. His professional memberships included the Society of Biblical Literature, the Institute for Biblical Research, and the Evangelical Theological Society.
Besides his academic interests, he loved the outdoors and hunting. Dillard was a master cabinetmaker and handyman. One was as likely to find him with a hammer in his hand as with some tome. A pilot, sometimes judo instructor and radio broadcaster, Professor Dillard still found time for raising three boys and for listening to students.
Professor Dillard was the son of Raymond Eugene and Ruth Wallace Dillard of Fayetteville, North Carolina who survive him. Also surviving him are his wife Ann Albrecht Dillard, with whom he celebrated their 27th anniversary this past June, and his three sons, Joel B., Jonathan B. and Joshua A., all of whom are at home. Dr. Dillard is survived by a brother Bruce of Raleigh, North Carolina, three nieces, one nephew, and his aunt Madeline Wallace of Louisville, Kentucky.
Words to Live By: We will all come to that moment when this life must end. Are you prepared for what will follow? Are you prepared to enter into the presence of the Lord of all creation? Have you learned to welcome each day as if it might be your last? So pray and so live as to stay ever close to your Lord and Savior.
Edmund Prosper Clowney met his Lord face to face on Sunday, March 20, 2005, having passed into glory at the age of 87. He was survived by his wife of 63 years, Jean Wright Clowney; by his five children: David Clowney, Deborah Weininger, Paul Clowney, Rebecca Jones, and Anne Foreman; by twenty‑one grandchildren; and by eleven great grandchildren.
Born in Philadelphia, on July 30, 1917, Ed received his B.A. from Wheaton College in 1939, a Th. B. from Westminster Theological Seminary in 1942, a S.T.M from Yale University Divinity School in 1944, and a D.D. from Wheaton College in 1966. Ordained in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, he served as pastor of several churches from 1942 to 1946 and was then invited to become assistant professor of practical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in 1952. He became that institution’s first president in 1966, and remained there until 1984, when he took a post as theologian‑in‑residence at Trinity Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Charlottesville, Virginia.
In 1990 Ed and Jean moved to Escondido, California, where Ed was adjunct professor at Westminster Seminary California. In 2000, he took a full‑time position as associate pastor at Christ the King Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Houston, Texas. After two years, he moved back to Charlottesville, where he once again became part‑time theologian‑in‑residence at Trinity Presbyterian Church. He remained in this role until his death.
Ed was a compassionate counselor; a devoted servant of Jesus Christ, his Word, and his church; a peacemaker; and a true visionary. He dreamed for Christ’s kingdom and was instrumental in the birth or furtherance of such ministries as the Reformed Theological Seminary in Aix‑en‑Provence, France; Westminster Seminary California; Trinity Church, Charlottesville; the Lausanne Conference; InterVarsity ministries, both in the United States and in England; and “The Westminster Ministerial Institute,” an inner‑city training program for pastors in Philadelphia, out of which the Lord developed the Center for Urban Theological Studies. He also had a life‑long interest in children’s Christian education materials.
In material written in 2002 for the publisher of one of his books, Ed revealed his creativity and educator’s heart: “The biggest job of my life was the production of the Vacation Bible School materials for [the original] Great Commission Publications [in the 1950s]…I had valuable assistance [from a number of people]…I wrote and illustrated the workbooks for children and the manuals for the teachers for the grades up to junior high….To strengthen my figure drawing, I [had] attended Saturday classes in the Chicago Museum school of art for two semesters.”
Ed will be supremely remembered by many as a preacher, perhaps the most gifted proponent and practitioner of redemptive‑historical preaching of this generation. He was unique in his ability to pick up the threads of redemptive history and to weave a rich expositional tapestry that brought Christ in all his perfections and glory before God’s people so that they were drawn to love and worship the Redeemer.
He was also a faithful churchman, serving first in the courts and many committees of the OPC and then in the courts and several committees of the PCA. He was a tireless proponent of improvement in the inter-church relations among the conservative Presbyterian denominations in this country. He had a significant role in the genesis of the “Joining and Receiving” process whereby the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod joined the PCA in 1982.
His writing displays the great theme of his life, namely Christ’s presence in the whole of Scripture and his present work in the church. His books include Preaching and Biblical Theology, Called to the Ministry, Christian Meditation, Doctrine of the Church, The Message of I Peter, The Unfolding Mystery, and Preaching Christ in all of Scripture. Some of these titles have been translated for the benefit of the worldwide church. His last book, How Christ Transforms the Ten Commandments, was accepted by his publisher only days before his death.
Ed left behind a legacy not only of written books and articles, but a great number of sermons and lectures, as well as magazine columns such as the humor column “Eutychus and His Pin” for Christianity Today and Bible studies for Tabletalk. His sense of humor and his love for people left a mark wherever he went. In the last week of his life, one attending nurse, laughing as she left his room, exclaimed, “What a sweet man!” Those who knew and loved him would agree. His tender‑hearted encouragement and wisdom will be greatly missed, but his work will be established by his Master who has now welcomed him with those reassuring words: “Well‑done, good and faithful servant, enter now into the joy of your Lord!”
[The above tribute was compiled at the time of Dr. Clowney’s death by Ms. Mindy Withrow, Associate Director for Communications of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA, with additional material from Rev. Bill Johnson. Used by permission.]
Robert Dick Wilson was the fifth professor, and last apparently, who first served at Western Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh and then went on to a career at the Princeton Theological Seminary. The fourth such professor was Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield.
Dr. Wilson had received his A.B. and his M.A. from Princeton University and his Th.B. from Western Theological Seminary. Then he had studied for two years at the University of Berlin prior to receiving his Ph.D. from Princeton University, whereupon he took up his teaching position at Western Theological Seminary, first as an instructor, 1883-1885, and then as a professor, 1885-1900.
While teaching at Western, Dr. Wilson gathered a group of students about him and breathed into them, even the least promising, the spirit of research and adventure in the study of the Word of God. Undoubtedly he carried this same enthusiasm and pedagogy with him when he left for Princeton in 1900. It was said of Dr. Wilson, that “he seemed to fit into Princeton as an old glove fits the hand.”
Born in Indiana, Pennsylvania on February 4, 1856, Robert Dick Wilson was the son of a wealthy merchant. Like his brother, he was a voracious reader, and his parents encouraged their children in their studies. Well before graduating from college, Robert was adept in reading nine languages and already had his Latin, Greek and Hebrew well in hand. Over the course of his life, he would come to master several dozen languages, focusing primarily on ancient near-eastern tongues. Wilson’s linguistic talents were judged comparable to those of an earlier Princeton professor, J. Addison Alexander, and in his own day, Wilson was judged by many as the world’s greatest Old Testament scholar.
He devoted all of this vast learning to the defence of Holy Scripture. He believed with all his mind and heart that the Bible is true, and he supported his belief with a wealth of scientific material which even his opponents could not neglect. Only a short time before his death he
was engaged in an answer to a notable monograph, published at Oxford, which had recently devoted itself to a consideration of his views.
He was greatly beloved as a teacher and as a friend. With the simplicity of a true scholar, he was always ready to cast reserve aside and receive
his students into his heart. He called them his “boys”, and they responded with affection as well as with respect.
But great as were Dr. Wilson’s achievements throughout a long and fruitful life, his greatest achievement was his last. It was the achievement
by which, putting selfish considerations and unworthy compromise of principle aside, he left his home at Princeton and entered the Faculty
of a new institution devoted unreservedly to the Word of God. It is arguable that no one man sacrificed more in establishing the new school.
Many arguments might have been adduced to lead Dr. Wilson to remain at Princeton Seminary after the reorganization of that institution in 1929. He was at that time in his seventy-fourth year. An honorable and advantageous retirement awaited him whenever he desired. He had a good salary and a comfortable home. He had the friends that he had made at Princeton during a residence there of nearly thirty years. Might he not retain these advantages without being unfaithful to the cause to which he had devoted his life? Would not the new Board of Princeton Seminary keep in the background, for a time at least, the real character of the revolution that had been wrought? Would not the doctrinal change be gradual only, as at so many other institutions, formerly evangelical, which have conformed to the drift of the times? Could he not, meanwhile, serve God by teaching the truth in his own class-room, no matter what the rest of the institution did? Could he not round out his life in peace? Could he not leave to younger men the battle for the Faith?
Those considerations and many like them were no doubt presented to Dr. Wilson in very persuasive form. But he would have none of them. His Christian conscience, trained by a lifetime of devotion to God’s Word, cut through such arguments with the keenness of a Damascus blade. He penetrated to the real essence of the question. He saw that for him to remain at Princeton would be to commend as trustworthy what he knew to be untrustworthy, that it would be to lead Christ’s little ones astray. He knew that a man cannot have God’s richest blessing, even in teaching the truth, when the opportunity to teach the truth is gained by compromise of principle. He saw clearly that it was not a time for him to think of his own ease or comfort, but to bear testimony to the Saviour who had bought him with His own precious blood.
He did bear that testimony. He left his home at Princeton, and all the emoluments and honors that awaited him there. He cast in his lot with a new institution that had not a dollar of endowment and was dependent for the support of its professors upon nothing but faith in God.
Dr. Wilson was supremely happy in that decision. He never regretted it for a moment. He entered joyfully into the life of the new seminary, and God richly blessed him there. Then, having rounded out more than the allotted period of three-score years and ten, a Christian soldier without tarnish of compromise upon his shield, he entered into the joy of his Lord. He died early in October of 1930, at the beginning of Westminster’s second academic year.
Words to Live By: The gospel cannot well be preached unless there be a school of the prophets to train men to preach it in all its purity and all its power. And these schools must be found consistently faithful to the Lord if they are to properly fulfill their role. Pray for these schools. Pray for the men who are being raised up to proclaim the precious Gospel of saving grace in Christ Jesus alone. Pray that they would be courageous, sparing no effort in giving all their time and talents in serving the Lord. Pray for those who teach, for those who administer, and for those who serve. Pray that together all their efforts would serve to expand the kingdom of our Lord and Savior throughout all the earth.
[A large portion of the above is taken from “The Power of a Noble Example,” a tribute published by Westminster Theological Seminary upon the death of Dr. Robert Dick Wilson. To view that document and other tributes to Dr. Wilson, click here.]
Our God Is Faithful, from Generation to Generation.
On this blog, now nearing the end of its second year, we have on numerous occasions made use of the news clippings preserved in seven scrapbooks gathered by the Rev. Henry G. Welbon. Henry had a keen eye for the value of history, and those scrapbooks contain valuable coverage of the modernist controversy of the 1930’s. Additionally, Rev. Welbon also wrote histories of two churches that he served.
Henry Garner Welbon was born in Seoul, Korea on September 28, 1904. His father, Arthur Garner Welbon [1866-1928], was a missionary sent to Korea under the auspices of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. Upon arriving in Korea in 1900, a year later he married Sarah Harvey Nourse, a missionary nurse who had arrived on the mission field a few years earlier.
The Welbons served at several mission stations, raising a young family there on the field, until Mrs. Welbon’s declining health forced the family to return to the United States in 1919.
Up until that time, Henry had attended the P’yongyang Foreign School in Korea. He then completed his secondary education in California, before the family relocated to Maryville, Tennessee. Henry graduated from Maryville College in 1927, though he had suffered the death of his mother in 1925, and his father returned to the mission field shortly thereafter.
Pursuing a call to the ministry, Henry entered Princeton Theological Seminary in 1927 and was there during those turbulent years that witnessed the reorganization of Princeton and which in turn led to the formation of Westminster Theological Seminary. Henry was one of those that left Princeton to complete his education at Westminster, graduating there in 1931. He was licensed just before graduation and ordained in September of 1931 by the Philadelphia Presbytery (PCUSA), being installed in what some term a “yoked” pastorate, serving both the Head of Christiana PCUSA church in Newark, Delaware and the Pencader Presbyterian Church in Glasgow, Delaware. Now settled as a pastor, he married his dear wife Dorothy the following June of 1932.
Following his convictions, Rev. Welbon led his congregations to take a stand for the gospel, though it meant the loss of their respective buildings. This was in 1936, and Rev. Welbon became one of the founding ministers of the Presbyterian Church of America [later renamed as the Orthodox Presbyterian Church]. Then in 1938, he was among those who left the PCofA to form the Bible Presbyterian Church, with Rev. Welbon serving the BP congregation in Newark, DE until 1942.
Our own records do not tell how he spent the years between 1942 and 1946, but in post-war years, his facility with the Korean language became important to the U.S. government. The government eventually wanted to relocate him to Korea, but wise friends there urged him not to take that appointment. Wise advice indeed, in the late 1940’s. Later in life, Rev. Welbon returned to missions, serving first as a teacher in Japan, 1966-69, and then as pastor of the Presbyterian Church of Boatswain Bay, Grand Caymans, 1969-71. Thereafter, he was honorably retired as a member of the Delmarva Presbytery of the RPCES.
In the closing years of his life, and after the death of his beloved wife Dorothy, Rev. Welbon got on a train in the Spring of 1999 and left his home in Tucson, Arizona to travel across the country to research his family history. This had been a life-long project, and he hoped to finally locate some of the last necessary bits of information. St. Louis was one stop in his journey, and I was honored to meet him at that time. He continued on to Washington, D.C. to complete his research and then returned home to finish writing his family history. Completing that work, he took it to the publisher and died the very next day, on December 11, 1999.
Words to Live By: Arthur and Sarah Welbon had six children, two of whom died in Korea while still quite young. They lived their lives in service to our Lord, as did their son Henry. Time does not permit us to search out the lives of their other children, but of the surviving children, one of Henry’s sisters, Mary, was the ancester—the great-grandmother—of Gabriel Fluhrer, a graduate of Greenville Seminary who served for a time at Second Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Greenville, and who now serves as an OPC pastor in Cary, North Carolina. And as Rev. Fluhrer himself once said, as he reflected on his family’s heritage,
“Praise God for His covenant faithfulness to generation after generation.”
Rev. Welbon authored four books, of which the first two are currently preserved at the PCA Historical Center:
A History of Head of Christiana Church. (1933). A History of Pencader Presbyterian Church,. (1936). A History of Christian Education in Delaware. (Univ. of Delaware, M.A. thesis, 1937). A History and Genealogy of a Welbon Family which Came from Lincolnshire, England to Detroit, Michigan in 1854. (1999).
[with gentle humor, it’s hard not to notice, that when Rev. Welbon found a title he liked, he stuck with it!]
The grave site of the Rev. Henry G. Welbon can be viewed here.
It was on this day, November 8th, in 1877, that the Rev. Dr. Archibald Alexander Hodge was inaugurated as Associate Professor of Didactic and Polemic Theology at the Princeton Theological Seminary. With an eye to the value of the tradition, some schools, like Westminster Theological Seminary, continue the practice of the inaugural address. As Dr. Hodge notes in his opening paragraph, the address makes for an opportunity to display both theological convictions and theological method of the teacher.
While perhaps a bit long for a weekday post, hopefully the busy reader will at least bookmark the page and return over the weekend. As one could only expect from A.A. Hodge, this is an excellent composition, worthy of serious, careful consideration.
Dogmatic Christianity, the Essential Ground of Practical Christianity
The Inaugural Address of Archibald Alexander Hodge,
upon his installation as Associate Professor of Dogmatic and Polemic Theology
at Princeton Theological Seminary, November 8, 1877.
FATHERS AND BRETHREN OF THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS:
In obedience to your call, I am here to assume the solemn trust involved in teaching Christian theology in this Seminary. Doubtless the design of associating an inaugural address with the induction of a new professor into such a charge is to afford him an opportunity of satisfying you, as the responsible guardians of the institution, with respect to his theological convictions and method.
I therefore affirm my belief that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments in their integrity are the Word of God, as a whole and in every part infallible and binding the conscience, and the only divinely authentic informant and rule of faith in matters of religion. Christian theology is wholly in the Scriptures, and is to be drawn from them only by legitimate interpretation. This is true of systematic as absolutely as of exegetical or of Biblical theology. The system lies in the relations of the facts, and their relations are deteremined by their nature, as that is disclosed by the words of the Holy Ghost. The systematic theologian as well as the exegete is only an interpreter; the one interprets the words and develops the revealed truths; the other interprets these separate lessons in their mutual light and reciprocal relations, and develops the revealed system.
More definitely I affirm, not as a professional propriety, but as a personal conviction, that the Confession and Catechisms of the Westminster Assembly contain the system taught in the Holy Scriptures. Or rather, in the more absolute terms of subscription imposed upon intrants by the Scottish Presbyterian Churches, “I do sincerely own and believe the WHOLE DOCTRINE contained in the Confession of Faith, approved by former General Assemblies of this Church, to be founded upon the Word of God, and do acknowledge the same as the confession of my personal faith, and will firmly and constantly adhere thereunto, and to the utmost of my power will assert, maintain, and defend the same.” This is affirmed, not only because I believe this “whole doctrine” to be true, but because I also believe this “system of doctrine” to be the most complete and adequate presentation as yet attained by the Church of that truth revealed in the Holy Scriptures, which the Holy Ghost has declared to be “the power of God unto salvation.” For therein Christ and His work is exhibited in their relation to human needs, experiences, duties, and destinies, and it is, therefore, the efficient instrument of forming character, of ruling action, and of effecting salvation.
It is precisely this last position which in the present day is so earnestly and in such various quarters denied. Besides the numerous classes of professed unbelievers, who positively reject Christianity, or the integrity and authority of its records, or at least some of its essential doctrines, there are many more, because of their position of professed friendliness, doing incalculably more harm, who, expressing no opinion as to the objective truthfulness of the church system of doctrines, maintain that it is at any rate unessential because impractical and unprofitable. Hence, they insist that the careful elaboration, and the prominent and ceaseless emphasis which the Church gives to doctrine imperils the interests of religion, by dividing those otherwise agreed, by rendering the candid examination of new truth impossible through the bias of foregone conclusions, and by diverting the attention of Christian people from the great practical and moral interests of life to matters of barren speculation. They charge the Church with exalting creed above morals, and faith above character. They insist upon it, that the norm of Christianity is to be found in the Sermon on the Mount, and as such it is proved to be a religion of character, not of creed; and hence, that it is the duty of the Church to regard immoral action as the only heresy.
This tendency to depreciate the importance of clearly discriminated views of religious truth, rests in the case of different objectors upon very different grounds, and is carried to very different degrees. But against this entire tendency, which opposes creed and morals, faith and character, in all its forms and intensities, we protest, and proclaim the opposite principle as fundamental,–that truth is in order to holiness, and that knowledge of the truth is an essential prerequisite to right character and action.
The force of the objections against the importance of clearly discriminated truth in the sphere of religion is mainly the result of the vagueness with which the objections are stated. When it is charged against the Church, as its record stands in history, that it has subordinated moral and practical interests to those of scholastic specualtion and party contests, there is a coloring of truth in the charge which commands attention, and disguises the real animus and ultimate aim of the objectors.
In order to clear the question of accidental complications, which constantly confuse the current discussions of it, we make the following admissions and distinctions:
1st. We concede that one of the sins most easily besetting theologians has been a tendency to over-refinement in speculation, over-formality of definition, and an excess of rigidity of system. Logical notions, creatures of the understanding, have too often been substituted for the concrete form of spiritual truth presented by the Holy Ghost to faith. Theologians have often practiced a rationalism as real as that of their modern opponents, when their ambition to be wise beyond what is written has urged them to explore and explain divine mysteries, to philosphize on the basis of scriptural facts, and to form rational theories, as, for instance, of the relation of the divine and human natures in the person of Christ, and of the concursus of the first with the second causes in Providence.
2d. We admit also that zeal for doctrine has in too many instances been narrow and prejudiced, mingled with the infirmities of personal pride and party spirit, and has hence led to the unnecessary divisions and alienations of those who were in reality one in faith, and to the conditioning of communion, and even of salvation, upon unessential points. Human nature has operated among earnest theological advocates with the uniformity and blindness of a physical law, leading each to choose a position as far as possible from his opponent–to unduly emphasize some Scriptures and depreciate others–to confine his attention to the fragment of truth he champions, exaggerating its proportions, and denying or minimizing the qualifying truths represented by his antagonist. This law has led to the multiplying of special theological tendencies, and to their development in all possible directions and to every possible extent, and has thus been providentially overruled to the extension of our knowledge, and to the ultimate establishment of the truth in wider relations. but the habit is in itself obviously evil, since for the individuals immediately concerned it sacrifices the truth as a whole to special elements, which by exaggeration or dissociation from their natural relations become virtually untruths. This is illustrated in the whole history of controversies, e.g., between Nestorians and Monophysites, Lutherans and Reformed as to the person of Christ, between Supralapsarian Calvinists and Arminians, Churchmen and Puritans, Mystics and Formalists. It is plainly the duty of the individual to understand, as fully as possible the position of his respondent, and to incorporate the other’s fragment of truth with his own into the catholic whole.
3d. We must admit also that some advocates of theological dogma have lacked the courage of their convictions, and have betrayed their want of perfect confidence in the foundations on which they have builded by a disposition to discourage the fearless investigations of new truth in all directions, and to put an ungenerous interpretation upon all opinions to which their own minds were unaccustomed.
We claim to be sincere advocates of free investigation, in the true sense of that word, in every direction open to man. The believer in the supernatural revelation contained in God’s Word is place on a higher and more central point of vision than that of the mere naturalist, and he is thus rendered free of the whole sphere of truth. The true relation of the successive realms of the universe of being and knowledge can be read by one looking upon them from within outward and not from without inward, from above downward and in the direction in which the supreme light of revelation radiates, and not from below upward upon the side on which the shadows fall.
But it is absurd to suppose that true intellectual progress consists in a mere change of opinions, or that it is consistent with the destruction of the foundations which have been laid in the verified knowledge of the past. Truth once adequately established must be held fast forever, while we stand prepared to add to it all new truth substantiated by equal evidence. And it is a law which all educated men should be ready to acknowledge as axiomatic, that truth in any department once established must ever after hold the place of valid presumptions, influencing the course of new investigations in every department. Ruskin well testifies, “It is the law of progressive human life that we shall not build in the air, but in the already high-storied temple of the thoughts of our ancestors,” and that any addition successfully made can “never be without modest submission to the Eternal Wisdom, nor ever in any great degree except by persons trained reverently in some large portion of the wisdom of the past.”
It cannot be doubted that what is held by men as truth in any one department of knowledge must, in the long run, be brought into conscious adjustment with all that they hold as truth in every other department. That which is false in philosophy cannot long be believed to be true in religion, and conversely, that which is false in religion can never be rightly regarded true in philosophy. Consequently, in the rapid development of the physical sciences which characterizes the present age, it is inevitable that there should be serious difficulty in so adjusting all the elements as to allow us to become clearly conscious of the congruity in all respects of the new knowledge with the old. It is not to be wondered at even that at several points there is an apparently irreconcilable antagonism. But when we recall the obvious distinction between facts and theories, between established knowledge and provisional hypothesis, we are readily reassured by the recollection it suggests that the historic track of human thought is strewn with the wrecks of systems, of cosmogonies, and anthropologies, as certainly believed and as influential in their day as any of the anti-theological systems of the present day.
We should unquestionably open our doors wide, with a joy equal to her own, for all the facts which science gathers in her harvest-time. But is it not absurd to ask the believers in the great Church Creeds of Christendom to abandon, to modify, or to mask that ancient and coherent mass of knowledge which roots itself in the profoundest depths of human nature, and in all human history, which has verified itself to reason and every phase of experience for two thousand years, which has moulded the noblest charcters, inspired the most exalted lives, and inaugurated the very conditions which made modern science and civilization possible–to modify or abandon all this in deference to one or the other of the variant and transient speculations which each in his little day claims to speak in the venerable name of science?
We admit also that all Christian doctrine, like all other truth, rests on evidence appropriate in kind and adequate in degree. Nor is it denied that human reason legitimately exercised is the organ by which alone this divine truth is to be apprehended and its credentials examined and verified. These evidences ought to be subjected to the most thorough legitimate examination. He is a false or a mistaken advocate of the truth who would impede such investigation or who fears the result. Most of those who depreciate Christian dogma as incapable of certain verification, or as impractical and unprofitable, simply beg the question as to these evidences. All such we refer to the Christian Apologist, who is fully prepared to meet all reasonable demands. At present we assume the truth of our dogma and claim, that being true, every fragment of it is of transcendcent importance as to the God-appointed means of effecting the moral and spiritual regeneration of human character and life.
4th. We moreover admit without hesitation that theologians must themselves be held to their own principle that truth is in order to holiness; that the great end of dogma is not the gratification of the taste for speculation, but the formation of character and the determination of the activities of our inward and outward life in relation to God and our fellow-men. There is a patent distinction between the logical and the moral aspects of truth, between that manner of conceiving and stating it which satisfies the understanding and that which affects the moral nature and determines experience. Neither can be neglected without injury to the other. For if the laws of the understanding are essentially outraged, the moral nature cannot be either healthfully or permanently affected; that which is apprehended as logically incongruous by the understanding, cannot be rested in as certainly true and trusthworthy by the heart and conscience and will. But all the great doctrines of the Scriptures may be apprehended on the side and in the relations which immediately determine the moral attitude of the soul in relation to God. It is possible, for instance, to treat the Biblical teaching as to the sinful estate into which man has fallen and from which he has been redeemed by Christ, as a metaphysical or a psychological problem, in which its reality and bearings, as a matter of experience, may be to a great degree disguised. On the other hand, it may be set forth, as it always is in Scripture, as it is realized in consciousness, and as it enters into all religious experience. If, as is asserted, religious experience is only the personal experience of the truth of the great doctrines of Christianity, as we are personally concerned with them, it follows that they must be conceived and stated in a form in which they admit of being realized in the experience. Any theological method which sacrifices the moral and experiential aspects of the truth to a metaphysical and speculative interest will soon lose its hold upon the consciences of men, and itself experience that law of change which determines the fluctuations of all mere speculative systems.
With these admissions and distinctions, we return to our theme, that the truth revealed in the Scriptures, and embraced in what evangelical Christians style Christian dogma, is the great God-appointed means of producing in men a holy character and life. at present neither the general truth of Christianity nor that of any particular system of theology claiming to represent it, is the question. but the truth of Christianity being assumed, we affirm that the truths set forth in the Word of God in their mutual relations, are necessary means of promoting holiness of heart and life. That is, that dogmatic Christianity is the essential ground of practical Christianity.
1st. This will be made evident when we consider what Christianity really is and what is the essence of Christian doctrine. Unlike all philosophies, it is not a speculative system built up on certain principles or seminal ideas. It is, on the contrary, a divinely authenticated statement of certain facts concerning God, His nature, His attitude towards man as fallen, His purpose with regard to man’s redemption from sin, and several stages of His actual intervention to effect that end. This redemptive work Christ has been, and is now engaged in accomplishing by several actions in chronological succession. The revelation of these purposes and redemptive actions has been evolved through an historic process, the separate facts of which are as definitely ascertainable as those which constitute any other history. Christian doctrine, therefore, is just God’s testimony with regard to certain matters of fact, with which the religious life of the race is bound up. A distinction has been pressed, beyond all reason, between the matter of fact taught in Scripture and doctrines which, it is asserted, men have inferred from or have superadded to the facts, as hypothetical explanations of them. By matters of fact the liberal school means the external events of Christ’s history as these were observed by the bodily senses of human witnesses, and assured to us by their testimony; and these external facts of sense, perception, and nothing more, they admit to be valid objects of faith, forgetful that a more advanced and consistent school of their fellow-rationalists overset these external facts just as confidently as they themselves flippantly relegate dogma to the religion of the unknowable. These men admit, for instance, that we know, as a matter of “fact,” that Christ died on the cross, and rose from the dead the third day; but they hold that the design with which he died or that the relation which His death sustains to man’s restoration to the divine favor are matters of speculative opinion, but no matter of “fact.”
The word “fact” in universal usage signifies not merely an action, a thing done, but as well any objective reality, and by way of eminence, a reality of which we have adequate certainty, in distinction from a matter of opinion or probably reality. Now that Christ died and rose again as our representative, that His death was a vicariously endured penalty, is plainly as purely a matter of fact, i.e., objective reality, as definitely and certainly verifiable on the direct testimony of God, as the dying and rising again themselves. All that a witness in the Hall of Independence on the 4th of July, 1776, would have seen with his bodily eyes would have been the physical acts of certain men subscribing their names to a written paper; that was the optical perception, and nothing more. But no man would be absurd enough to deny that it is just as much a “fact,” and just as certain a “fact,” that they subscribed their names as the representatives of certain political communities, with the design and effect of changing their political constitutions and relations. The sensible transaction, and its legal intent and effect were equally matters of “fact” and ascertainable with equal precision and certainty upon adequate evidence. Now the matter of fact of which Christian dogmas are the revealed expression and attestation are those which more than any other conceivable facts are of transcendent importance and of immediate practical interest to mankind. The tri-personal constitution of the Godhead, and His essential attributes and eternal purposes–His relation to the world as Creator, providential Ruler, and moral Governor–His judgment of man’s present guilt, corruption, and impotence as a sinner–His purposes of grace, and the provision made for their execution, in the incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity, and in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension to universal dominion of the God-man–the resurrection of the body, the judgment and eternal condemnation of the finally impenitent and glorification of believers–these are the FACTS.
In every department of life all practical experience and activity is constantly determined by the external facts into relation to which we are brought, and upon our knowledge of and voluntary conformity to these facts. All modern life, personal, social, and political, is notoriously being changed through the influence of the facts brought to our knowledge in the advances of the physical sciences. All moral duties spring out of relations, as those of husband and wife, parent and child, citizen and community. All religion is morality lifted up to the sphere of our relations to God, as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, as Creator, Moral Governor, Redeemer, Sanctifier, and Father. Our question, at present, is not whether our theological dogmas are true, but whether, being true, they are of practical importance. Much of the cavil against their use is only a disingenuous begging the question as to their truth. We prove them to be true in the department of Apologetics, which draws upon all the resources of philosophy and historical criticism. And having proved them to be true, we now assert, in advance, that morality and religion are possible only so far as these facts are recognized, and our inward and outward life adjusted to them. It would be incomparably more reasonable to attempt to accomplish all the offices pertaining to the departments of agriculture, navigation, and manufactures, while ignoring all the ascertained facts of the natural world, than it would be to attempt to accomplish the offices of morality and religion while ignoring the facts of the spiritual world signified and attested to us in Christian dogma.
2d. Again, our proposition that knowledge and belief of scriptural truth is the essential means of the production of holiness in heart and life, may be demonstrated upon universally admitted psychological principles. Knowledge is the act of the subject knowing, apprehending the truth. Truth is the object apprehended and recognized in the act of knowledge. In every act of apprehension there is required the object to be apprehended, and the apprehensive power upon the part of the agent apprehending. “The eye sees only that which it brings with it the power of seeing.” All truth of every kind stands related to the human mind, and the mind is endowed with constitutional faculties adjusted to it, and effecting its apprehension. As an actual fact, however, in the present state of the race, many individuals are found incapable of apprehending and recognizing some kinds of truth. for the apprehension of some truth a special endowment and cultivation of the understanding is necessary; for the recognition of other truth a special temperment and cultivation of tast is requisite, and for the apprehension of other truth again a special condition and habit of the moral and spiritual nature. In the actual condition of human nature the truths revealed in the Scriptures cannot be discerned in their spiritual quality as the things of God. But when the sould is quickened to a new form of spiritual life by the baptism of the Holy Ghost, this very truth, now discerned, becomes the insturment whereby the new spiritual life is sustained and developed. This accords with the analogy of the constitutional action of the soul in every sphere of its activity. The perception of beauty depends upon the possession of the aesthetic faculty. But that being possessed, the aesthetic culture of the soul depends upon the contemplation of beautiful objects, and the knowledge of the law of beauty in the endless variety of its forms. It is a law having no exception that the exercise of the perceptive faculty necessarily precedes and conditions the exercise of the affections and the will. Beauty must be apprehended before it can be appreciated and loved. Moral truth must be apprehended before it can be loved or chosen, and only thus can the moral affections be trained and strengthened. Mere feeling and mere willing without knowledge are absolutely impossible experiences, and if possible, they would be irrational and immoral. It is the grand distinction of Christianity that it is ethical and not magical in all its processes and spirit. It rests on facts. It moves in the sphere of personal relations. It is a spiritual power acting through the instrumentality of truth addressed to the reason, and made effectual upon the soul by the power of the Divine Spirit. And the truth, through the medium of knowledge spiritualized, acts on the emotions and will, and transforms character and governs life.
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 […]
It was yesterday actually—September 17th, 1936—and not today’s date of September 18th, when Dr. J. Gresham Machen spoke in Westfield, New Jersey on the subject “Shall We Obey God, or Man?”. But as we didn’t want to pass up mention of this occasion, so you will please forgive a bit of backtracking. This appears to be one […]
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 […]
Excerpted from Volume III of The Presbyterian Magazine, September 1853, pp. 413-415.This recounting of the venerable Dr. Alexander’s farewell to his congregation bears the following footnote: THE PRESBYTERIAN says, that “A valued friend recently discovered in the possession of one of the Pine Street parishoners of Dr. Archibald Alexander, a manuscript copy of the remarks made […]
This is the concluding article in the series PRESBYTERIANS IN AMERICA. The author, Rev. Prof. Paul Woolley, was formerly the professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. I do hope you have found Rev. Woolley’s articles both interesting and instructive, and I do trust that our readers are more familiar now than […]
Dr. Paul Woolley’s series of articles on Presbyterians in America continues today with a segment on churches of Covenanter ancestry. Please keep in mind that these articles were written in the early 1950s and so much has changed since that time. VI – The Churches of Covenanter Ancestry [Reformed Presbyterian Advocate, 86.3 (March 1952): 25-26] […]
On August 27th, 1820, the Rev. Sylvester Larned appeared for the last time before the congregation of the First Presbyterian Church of New Orleans. He had remained in the city during the summer’s “sickly season.” Death from fever was everywhere, and Rev. Larned has spent those weeks and months ministering to the city’s poor who […]
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): […]