Primary Sources for the Presbyterian Masses

A Brief History of The Presbyterian Magazine

In David S. Kennedy, Samuel G. Craig, The Presbyterian on 23/04/2011 at 15:20

With the start of its 96th year of publication, the editors of The Presbyterian saw fit to review briefly the magazine’s history.  On the front cover they published the following information:


Early in 1831, a group of Presbyterian men in Philadelphia, and vicinity conceived the idea of founding a religious paper, to advance the interests of the kingdom in general and of their own denomination in particular.  Throughout these years the following have been the editors, in the order of their service:

  • Rev. John Burtt,
  • Rev. James W. Alexander, D.D.
  • Rev. William M. Engles, D.D.
  • Rev. John Leyburn, D.D.
  • Rev. Matthew B. Grier, D.D.
  • Rev. E.E. Adams, D.D.
  • Rev. Samuel A. Mutchmore, D.D.
  • Rev. W.W. McKinney, D.D., LL.D.
  • Rev. Edward B. Hodge, D.D.
  • Rev. Walter A. Brooks, D.D.
  • Rev. David S. Kennedy, D.D.
  • Rev. Samuel G. Craig, D.D.

and various leaders of the Church or active workers, who have served as associates or on the editorial staff.

When THE PRESBYTERIAN was started, the Presbyterian Church had 23 Synods and 107 Presbyteries, 1,584 ministers, 2,253 churches, and a membership of 183,017.  Last year the Presbyterian Church [this would be the PCUSA] reported 46 Synods, 299 Presbyteries, 10,017 ministers, 9,619 churches, and a membership of 1,873,859.  The benevolent gifts in 1831 amounted to $98,000; total benevolences last year are reported as more than $15,000,000.

We hear much these days about the insecure tenure of life of religious papers.  Yet it is an interesting thing to note that of all the journals, daily or weekly, published in Philadelphia ninety-six years ago, but three remain under the titles they then bore.  THE PRESBYTERIAN, The Friend, and The Saturday Evening Post.  All other publications have been merged with others, have changed their names, or have passed out of existence.  The Saturday Evening Post has changed its character.  The two religious papers, The Friend (1829) and The Presbyterian (1831) remain till to-day, true to the principles of those men of God who first established them.

Regrettably, THE PRESBYTERIAN did not remain true to its founding principles for many more years.  Samuel G. Craig was the last conservative editor, forced from his post in 1930.  From that station he then went on to found the Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Company, which still exists to this day and which continues to faithfully serve the believing Church.  Craig’s first publishing effort was the magazine CHRISTIANITY TODAY, which ran continuously from 1930 until 1941 and then intermittently until 1949.  It was an entirely other group which later started another publication under the same name in 1956.  For more on this original series of CHRISTIANITY TODAY, please visit the PCA Historical Center’s web site

POSTSCRIPT: Just discovered today [05/12/11] this concluding note on the history of THE PRESBYTERIAN, written by Samuel G. Craig and published in THE CALVIN FORUM in October 1948:

“. . . Another matter of interest, closely related to that just mentioned, is the passing of The Presbyterian after an existence of 117 years, inasmuch as this leaves the liberal Presbyterian Tribune the only journal of opinion in our Church.  Throughout most of its long history The Presbyterian has been unwavering in its defense of the Reformed Faith as set forth in the Westminster Standards.  Following a change of editors in 1930 it became less militant in this respect but continued, not without warrant, to be regarded as the organ of the conservatives in the Church until about three years ago when its control passed into the hands of what was at least a semi-liberal group. At that time its Board of Control removed from its masthead the statement declaring that “the policy and influence, both direct and indirect, of the paper shall always be to emphasize what are known as the fundamental doctrines of Evangelical Christianity, such as the integrity of the Bible as the Word of God, the true humanity and true deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Personality and Deity of the Holy Spirit, the necessity and validity of the Atonement as a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice, the resurrection and personal return of our Lord, and salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ,” and substituted the following vague and indefinite statement, capable of being interpreted in a manner acceptable to both conservatives and liberals: “The Presbyterian shall be unreservedly committed to the interpretation, propagation and application of the historic Christian faith, in accordance with the Reformed tradition and the confessional standards of the Presbyterian Churches.  It shall aim at all times to unfold the everlasting truths of the Gospel, and shall strive at all times to deal with contemporary issues in church, society, and state from the viewpoint of God’s revelation of Himself in the Bible and in Jesus Christ.  The Presbyterian shall be in all respects an independent journal. It shall be the organ of Evangelical Christianity , owned and edited by men who seek, above and beyond every other interest, the glory of God, the salvation of men, the unity, peace, purity and edification of the Church, and the increasse of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ on earth.”
In view of what The Presbyterian had become it can hardly be said that its merger with Presbyterian Life is a loss to the cause of conservatism in the Church.  It continues, however, to be a matter of grave concern that the conservatives in the Church are without an organ. The need of such an organ is great.  The fate that has befallen The Presbyterian offers no proof that such a paper would not receive adequate support.  Financially speaking The Presbyterian went from bad to worse following its change of policy.  In the end it was apparently confronted with the alternative — discontinue because of lack of support, or merge with Presbyterian Life.  It chose the latter as the most face-saving.

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