Wise Words from the Past
It was at about this time–one date should suffice as well as another in this case–that on or about January 4, 1818 the first issue of the Virginia Evangelical and Literary Magazine made its appearance. Designed as a monthly periodical and with the Rev. Dr. John Holt Rice [1777-1831] serving as its editor, the magazine sought to address a wide range of material, religious, literary and scientific. Rice was not alone in the effort, having the assistance of Moses Hoge, president of Hampden-Sydney College; the Rev. John D. Blair of Richmond; and George A. Baxter, president of Washington College, Lexington, VA. As was so typical of the first half of the nineteenth century, the authors of the various articles typically wrote anonymously and often under pseudonyms. Dr. Conrad Speece, for instance, employed the name Melancthon, and Dr. John Matthews used the initials N.S. But the bulk of the work rested on the shoulders of Dr. Rice, and so the credit for this now great resource on the religious history of Virginia is largely his. The final issue of the periodical was in December of 1828, and Dr. Rice died just a few years later.
In the introduction to that first issue in 1818, Dr. Rice set down the high Christian standard which would guide all discussion on the pages of his journal. His words set a goal we would do well to imulate even now in our own discussions:—
The exposition which we shall give, in the course of the work, of these doctrines, and of others intimately connected with them, will be modified by our peculiar views; yet it will be our constant endeavor not to overrate any thing unessential to salvation; and to set up no tests of piety, which are not established in the holy scriptures. We have been taught to call no man master upon earth. Fathers and Reformers are esteemed by us as pious, and sometimes able men—but after all, mere men, whose opinions may be freely questoned, and ought always to be tried by the standard of revealed truth. The Bible is the only inspired book in the world, and to its authority alone do we pay implicit submission. Nevertheless, we do not depreciate creeds and confessions of faith; and, although we do not consider ourselves as pledged to vindicate every expression to be found in any thing of man’s devising; yet we do believe that the system of doctrine taught in the holy scriptures, is contained in the Confession of Faith of that Church to which we have the happiness to belong. Yet, while we firmly maintain that “form of sound words” which we have adopted, we shall, as conductors of a religious work, endeavor continually to imitate that example of liberality, and brotherly kindness, which has been displayed by our predecessors, and especially by those who, under God, were the founders of the Presbyterian Church in the United States.
In illustration of this last remark, we shall offer a few quotations from the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in the U. States:—“All saints that are united to Jesus Christ, their head, by his spirit and by faith, have fellowship with him in his graces, sufferings, death, resurrection, and glory : and being united to one another in love, they have communion in each other’s gifts and graces, and are obliged to the performance of such duties, public and private, as do conduce to their mutual good, both in the inward and outward man.—Saints, by profession, are bound to maintain an holy fellowship and communion in the worship of God, and in performing such other spiritual services as tend to their mutual edification; as also in relieving each other in outward things, according to their several abilities and necessities. Which communion, as God offereth opportunity, is to be extended unto all those who, in every place, call upon the name of the Lord Jesus.”–chap. xxvi. sec. 1, 2. The persons designated in this place, as saints by profession, it may be remarked, are elsewhere described as “those who profess the true religion.” In another part of the same work, we are taught to believe “that there are truths and forms, with respect to which men of good characters and principles may differ; and in all these, it is the duty of private Christians and societies to exercise mutual forbearance towards each other.” (See par. 342, Introduction to Form of Government, sec. 5.) It is in this spirit that we purpose to conduct all discussions concerning doctrine and discipline in our Magazine.
It is not, and we wish it to be distinctly understood, our object to attack others; but as we can, to explain to our readers the doctrines held, and the discipline maintained by us. And this for two purposes, both, as we think, laudable. The one to afford instruction to the members of the society to which we belong; the other to let the pious of different communions see how nearly we agree with them in fundamental doctrines. It is not truth of vital importance which, for the most part divides Christians; but questions about modes and forms. In the beginning of the Reformation, the Lutherans and the Reformed Churches differed as they differ now, yet they held communion with each other. And even among the Reformed Churches, there were diversities of discipline and mode of worship, yet no breach of brotherly kindness. Calvin and Knox, Cranmer and Ridley, and others of the same stamp, acknowledged each other as brethren, and employed their talents and zeal in defence of the common faith. So ought it to be now. So may it be soon!
Words to Live By:
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.—Ephesians 4:11-16, NIV.
Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you.—2 Timothy 1:13-14, NASB.