First Commencement of Westminster Seminary

Shortly we will turn to other matters, but just now, here is yet another item regarding Westminster Seminary–this from 1930 and a report on the school’s first commencement:

First Commencement of Westminster Seminary

Before a great throng which began gathering long before the doors were thrown open, Westminster Theological Seminary held its first commencement exercises in Witherspoon Hall, Philadelphia, on the evening of Tuesday, May sixth.

At eight o’clock, the hour set for the beginning of the exercises, the piano took up the strains of “Come, Thou Almighty King.”  Soon the audience was lifting the song in mighty volume as in processional the trustees, faculty and graduating class entered the room and took their places.  The long metre doxology was sung by all.  The Rev. Charles Schall, D.D., of Wayne, Pa., then led in prayer, reverently invoking the Divine presence and blessing.  After the invocation came the hymn, “All hail the power of Jesus’  Name,” followed by the reading of the Scripture lesson (Matt. 16:13-28) by the Rev. Frank R. Elder, D.D., of Cincinnati.  The prayer was offered by the Rev. John T. Reeve, D.D., of Syracuse, N.Y., who led the company in a moving and appropriate manner.

After the prayer had been offered, the President of the Board of Trustees, the Rev. Frank H. Stevenson, D.D., of Princeton, N.J., made the announcement that, the charter of the Seminary having been secured from the State of Pennsylvania, the decision had been taken to have the members of the faculty take the doctrinal pledge required by the charter, and to have them affix their signatures thereto, in the presence of the whole gathering.  The Pledge was then read by the Rev. Harold S. Laird, of Collingswood, New Jersey, the Secretary of the Board, and is as follows:

“In the presence of God, and of the Trustees and Faculty of this Seminary, I do solemnly and ex animo adopt, receive and subscribe to the Confession of Faith and Catechisms of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America in the form which they possessed in the year of our Lord 1929, as the confession of my faith, or as a summary and just exhibition of that system of doctrine and religiious belief, which is contained in Holy Scripture, and therein revealed by God to man for hiss salvation; and I do solemnly, ex animo, profess to receive the fundamental principles of the Presbyterian form of church government, as agreeable to the inspired oracles.  And I do solemnly promise and engage not to inculcate, teach, or insinuate anything which shall appear to me to contradict or contravene, either directly or impliedly, any element in that system of doctrine, nor to oppose any of the fundamental principles of that form of church government, while I continue a member of the Faculty in this Seminary.”

After the reading of the pledge, the Chairman of the Board called the members of the faculty one by one to come to the platform, assent to he Pledge, sign it, and take their places as fully inducted members of the faculty.  The first name to be called was “The Reverend Robert Dick Wilson, Doctor of Philosophy, Doctor of Divinity, Doctor of Laws, Professor of Semitic Philology and Old Testament Criticism.”  As the venerable and well loved figure ascended the stairs to the platform a thunder of applause arose from the audience, which hardly seemed able to contain itself.  And then hushed, the multitude watched him sign the historic document.

Dr. Wilson was followed by Dr. Machen, who in turn received a great ovation.

As each member of the faculty came forward the applause arose spontaneously again and again.

After the induction ceremony and the formal announcement by the President of the Board that “the faculty was now constituted according to the charter,” the address of the evening was delivered by the Rev. Clarence Edward Macartney, D.D., Minister of the First Presbyterian Church, Pittsburgh, and a Trustee of the Seminary.  Dr. Macartney’s address, which is printed in full in this issue of Christianity Today, was a great utterance upon a great theme: “Protestantism’s Tomorrow.”  As he spoke, to many in the audience the spirit of the Reformation lived again as unconquerable as of old.  Almost at the beginning came the words, “I am aware, as you are, that this is no ordinary occasion, and that the exercises of this evening have back of them a deeper significance than the sending of these young men into the work of the ministry.  Tonight we fling out to every wind that blows a new banner, to be displayed, not because of any new discovery or any new faith, but because of the Everlasting Gospel.”  And with these words, and as the address proceeded, the first commencement of Westminster seemed in its spirit to take its place in history with other great assemblies and gatherings; with the signing of the Covenant in Greyfriars Kirkyard, the Glasgow Assembly of 1638, the Free Church Assembly of 1843.

Following Dr. Macartney’s eloquent and momentous address, the certificates were awarded to the graduating class by Dr. Wilson, as senior member of the faculty.  Again the applause arose as the first graduates–thirteen in number–received their certificates.  Their names are as follows:

Samuel James Allen, William Treman Blackstone, Harold Tabor Commons, Everett Clarke DeVelde, Chester Arthur Diehl, Herbert Vinton Hotchkiss, Jacob Marcellus Kik, Robert Samuel Marsden, Harold John Ockenga, Arend Roskamp, Ralph Wesley Todd, Robert Lucius Vining, Ernest William Zentgraf, Jr.

It was announced that the Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield Prize in Semitic philology had been awarded to Chester A. Diehl, of Grundy Centre, Iowa, and the William Brenton Greene, Jr., prize in systematic theology to Robert S. Marsden, of Philadelphia.

The address to the graduating class was given by Dr. Wilson, who in impressive and tender words, exhorted the students so to live and preach the gospel that at the end they might say with Paul, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith:  Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day.”

After Dr. Wilson had concluded, the whole company rose and sang, “When I survey the wondrous cross,” and as the audience lifted up the words of Watts’ great hymn, it was evidently releasing much pent-up and restrained emotion.  The benediction was pronounced by the Rev. John Dolfin, Minister of the Bethany Christian Reformed Church of Muskegon, Michigan, a Member of the Board of Trustees.  Thus came to an end a service which it is hardly possible that any witnesses could ever forget.

The members of the faculty, in the order of signing the Pledge, are:

Robert Dick Wilson, Ph.D., D.D., LL.D., Professor of Semitic Philology and Old Testament Criticism

J. Gresham Machen, D.D., Litt. D., Professor of New Testament

Oswald Thompson Allis, Ph.D., D.D., Professor of Old Testament History and Exegesis

Cornelius Van Til, Th.M., Ph.D., Professor of Apologetics

R.B. Kuiper, A.M., B.D., Professor of Systematic Theology

Ned Bernard Stonehouse, Th.D., Assistant Professor of New Testament

Paul Woolley, Th.M., Assistant Professor of Church History

Allan Alexander MacRae, M.A., Assistant Professor of Semitic Philology

The Board of Trustees met in the morning at the Seminary, 1528 Pine Street, and was constituted under the charter.  All subscribed to the following pledge:

“I hereby solemnly declare in the presence of God and of this Board (1) that I believe the Scripture of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice, (2) that I sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, in the form which it possessed in 1929, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures, (3) that, approving the Charter of Westminster Theological Seminary, I will faithfully endeavor to carry into effect the articles and provisions of said Charter and to promote the great design of the Seminary.”

The trustees elected the following officers:

The Rev. Dr. Frank H. Stevenson of Princeton, president; F.M. Paist of Philadelphia, vice president; the Rev. Harold S. Laird of Collingswood, N.J., secretary, and Morgan H. Thomas of 18 So. 6th St., Philadelphia, treasurer.

[excerpted from Christianity Today, 1.1 (May 1930): 22-23.]