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The Board Controversy, 1841-1861

In Charles Hodge, James Henley Thornwell, Old School/New School Division on 26/04/2012 at 10:05

Some of our readers may be aware of the famous debate in 1860 between James Henley Thornwell and Charles Hodge over the matter of church boards and whether such agencies were legitimate church structures.
As it turns out, this debate did not spring up overnight, but had actually been brewing for more than twenty years, basically ever since the 1837 split of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. into its Old School and New School factions.
A recent request for a few articles from that debate prompted some investigation and I’ve been posting the results of that research on this web page:

Jure Divino Presbyterianism and the Board Debates, 1841-1861.

Everything you’d ever want to know and more!

But if you just want a basic introduction to the story, there is an excellent introduction to this debate provided by the Rev. John Bailey Adger in his autobiography.  Adger had written a review of the PCUS General Assembly of 1860 in which these debates played such a central part, and twenty-five pages of his autobiography are spent in review of the debates, under the title of “The Board Controversy”.  I’ve provided a shortened version of that account here.

Adger begins his account with an intriguing comment from Dr. Benjamin Morgan Palmer, stating that this board controversy was a leftover from the Church’s division of 1837 :

The Board Controversy. [pp. 362-387 of My Life and Times, by the Rev. John Bailey Adger.]

Dr. Palmer well remarks that there was left over a “residuary bequest”—”a sort of remainder”—from the original controversy with which the church was rent in 1837-’38 [see Palmer’s Life and Letters of Thornwell, pp. 182-221.] This bequest and remainder was the board controversy. One expression which he uses in relation to this very point is liable to be misunderstood. He says, “During the period, when the church was brought under a species of vassalage to Congregationalism, the great national societies, which usurped her functions, conducted their operations by the agency of boards. The church had become familiar with that mode of action,” etc. No one will deny the influence of Congregationalism upon the Presbyterian Church, especially in those portions of it most contiguous to New England; nor that in the Northwestern wilderness, where the American Education Society and the American Home Mission Society chiefly operated, there was brought about a vassalage of the Presbyterian Church to Congregationalism. Of course, Dr. Palmer did not mean to apply his remark to our church in all its parts and portions. Neither is he to be understood as meaning that our whole church had become familiar with that mode of action in the sense of becoming, in any degree, satisfied with it. The sturdy Scotch-Irish Presbyterians of Pennsylvania, Virginia, Kentucky, and the Carolinas, who constituted the bulk of our Presbyterian Church in those days, had been educated better by their fathers, and could not approve the mixing up of the church with voluntary associations. They tolerated the Plan of Union, but, from the first, they did not like it, and it was influence from such quarters that finally overthrew it. Read the rest of this entry »

Princeton Seminary, Class of 1919

In Benjamin B. Warfield, J. Gresham Machen, Princeton Theological Seminary, Robert Dick Wilson, Roy T. Brumbaugh on 23/04/2012 at 12:49

The Princeton Theological Seminary is celebrating its 200th anniversary this year. In addition to festivities at the Seminary itself, both Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and the Western Reformed Seminary have also observed the occasion with special lectures. Today, Dr. David Calhoun returned from his speaking engagement at Western Reformed and brought with him a memento of the occasion, a reproduction of the Princeton class photo for 1919. Our thanks to Dr. Calhoun for his donation of this interesting photo:

[click on the image to view a larger version]

Among the students, only Roy T. Brumbaugh is identified, with his photo circled.  Then along the bottom row you see pictured the faculty of Princeton in that year, beginning on the viewer’s left with Robert Dick Wilson, Geerhardus Vos, William Greene, J. Gresham Machen, Caspar Wistar Hodge, J. Ross Stevenson, William Park Armstrong, Charles R. Erdman, B.B. Warfield, John D. Davis, Frederick W. Loetscher (not identified in the photo above), and O. T. Allis.

The full list of 44 regular students graduating with the class of 1919 is as follows (can you put any names with faces?) :
Beltman, Henry
Blakely, Hunter Bryson, Jr.
Bowman, John Wick
Brumbaugh, Roy Talmadge
Carey, Thomas Derby
Cost, Harry Fulton
Davidson, Dwight Brooker
Dillener, Leroy Young
Doran, Hubert Frank
Edmunds, Horatio Spencer
Eells, Hastings
Gehman, John Luke
Glick, Curtis Morgan
Grier, Joseph Lee
Hamilton, Floyd Eugene [father of the PCA’s Rev. David E. Hamilton]
Hathaway, Francis Ogden
Helsman, Franklin Benjamin
Henderson, Lloyd Putnam
Howenstein, John Calvin
Jenkins, Finley DuBois
Kleffman, Albert Henry
Logan, Robert Lee
Lohr, Herbert Martin
McColloch, Harry Van
McKnight, William Quay
Murray, Thomas
Neely, Harry Campbell
Nesbitt, Ralph Beryl
Ness, John Harrison
Orwig, Samuel Earl
Pitzer, Robert Claiborne
Riefsnyder, Thomas Bancroft
Rule, Andrew Kerr
Schweitzer, Frederick
Thompson, Yancy Samuel
Underwood, Charles Alfred
Van Eaton, J. Plumer
Walenta, Paul Herman
Welker, Herman Clare
Williams, Thomas Arthur
Wilson, J. Christy
Yeatts, Earl Raymond
Yeh, James Yunlung

Sermon in a Country Church

In Uncategorized on 14/04/2012 at 16:17

The lithograph shown below is taken from what I gather was a Scottish publication (based on some of the text on the reverse side). The original painting is by an artist named John Stirling. Another of his works, also on a religious theme, is shown below. After studying this lithograph a bit, I’m intrigued to find out more about Mr. Stirling.

The caption beneath the artwork reads:


It would seem that the painting is intended to be humorous. Behind the sleepy and distracted congregation, a plaque hangs on the wall. It reads:

The Rev. John Stirling.
[illegible text—possibly “Trinity Presbyterian Church”]
Of this Parish.

Was Stirling both an artist and a pastor? Even if he wasn’t a pastor in reality, with his name on the plaque, he seems here to at least imagine himself as the previous pastor of this little congregation. And if he was also a pastor, then all the more the sly prophetic joke that his successor couldn’t possibly be the preacher he was, and so will be unable to hold the congregation’s attention.

Another Stirling artwork, located on the web, is the painting shown below. In the description provided on that web page, the painting has erroneously been given the title of the above artwork. So for the moment we’ll call this one simply, “The Sermon.” The information provided gives it a date of 1859. It may be my own eye, but in this painting, the pastor looks remarkably similar to the one and only fellow in the above work who appears to  be paying attention.

Either of these would be nice to have as reproductions. Maybe Andrew Moody of Reformation Art might take it up as a project?

About That Motto

In Presbyterian Church in America on 12/04/2012 at 16:16

Someone has asked today about the history of the PCA’s motto, the one you see every year at General Assembly, emblazoned on various banners around the room, “True to the Scriptures, the Reformed Faith and obedient to the Great Commission.”

Apparently that motto has gone through some changes over the years!

One of the earliest examples of the phrase, perhaps the first, is provided by the Rev. Don Patterson, as he announced the formation of the Steering Committee, in 1971, leading to the eventual formation of the Presbyterian Church in America.

Rev. Patterson said, in part,

“These groups have reached a consensus to accept the apparent inevitability of a division in the Presbyterian Church U.S. cause by the program of the radical ecumenists, and to MOVE NOW toward a continuing body of congregations and presbyteries loyal to the Scriptures and the Westminster Standards…”

In that same issue [Bulletin no. 22, September 1971] of The Concerned Presbyterian, the masthead motto changed from the previous motto,

“Dedicated to Returning the Presbyterian Church, U.S. to its Primary Mission—Winning the Unsaved for Christ and Nurturing all Believers in the Faith.”

to a new motto, reflecting Patterson’s words :

“Dedicated to the Formation of a Continuing Church True to God’s Word and Loyal to Historic  Presbyterian Doctrine and Polity.

Elsewhere in that same issue of the Bulletin, there was mention of “. . . Presbyterians who will be forming a continuing Church faithful to God’s Word and loyal to historic Presbyterian doctrine and polity.”

But surprisingly, even in the very first Bulletin issued by the Concerned Presbyterian group, in March of 1965, there were hints of this motto, as yet unformed. Announcing their organization they issued a statement of core concerns, and said this in summary :

“This is the avowed purpose to endeavor to return the control of our Church once more to those who believe that the Bible is the Word of God and the only infallible rule of faith and practice, that unswerving loyalty to the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms is vital and essential to the work of our Church, and that leading the unsaved to Christ and nurturing believers in the Faith should take precedence even over every other proper activity in the Church’s program.

Because Ruling Elder Ken Keyes was the editor of The Concerned Presbyterian Bulletin, he was probably the author of the lead article in that first issue and so it is probably safe to attribute the above statement, and thus the root form of the motto, to Mr. Keyes.

[If you want to do your own research, all of the Bulletins issued by the Concerned Presbyterian group can be viewed here. The URL for that first issue is]

A later variation of the motto, perhaps the more familiar version, appears in Paul Gilchrist’s last letter as Stated Clerk (1998), where he reported

Our hearts were blessed as we celebrated the 25th Anniversary of the PCA at the General Assembly in St. Louis, Missouri. How good it was to hear how the Lord moved in the hearts of our founding fathers to establish a “continuing Presbyterian Church” that would be true to the Scriptures and to the Confession, and obedient to the Great Commission.

Obviously we could probably track some variations on the motto through the years, from 1971 to present, but most of those variations probably appeared because someone was working from memory.  For one thing, the motto was never officially adopted, so far as I can determine. If I’m wrong about that, please let me know. For now, barring other input, I’m satisfied that the motto was first envisioned by RE Kenneth S. Keyes, and later refined and voiced by TE Donald Patterson.

Lottery in the Synod of Mississippi

In Benjamin Morgan Palmer, Presbyterian Church in the U.S. [PCUS] on 04/04/2012 at 10:19

Benjamin Morgan Palmer served a long pastorate in the city of New Orleans and had a fruitful ministry there. His was an important voice in the larger community outside the church, as well. When gambling interests sought to re-establish and continue a lottery in that city, he spoke against it. What follows is the report of Rev. Palmer’s efforts, as found in C. W. Grafton’s history of Presbyterianism in MississippiThe title to this account is a bit misleading in that, of course, the lottery was not something sponsored by the Synod of Mississippi, but rather was a grievous concern occurring within their borders.
[Note: Grafton’s work was never published, but we are pleased to have a photostatic copy of  the original typescript here at the PCA Historical Center, received by the kind donation of the Rev. Vaughn Hathaway.]

Chapter 24
Lottery in the Synod of Mississippi

At the very beginning of the Presbyterian church in Mississippi a strong decided attitude was taken against all ungodly amusements.

The Presbytery of Mississippi was organized in 1816 and in the second or third meeting it passed strong resolutions against card playing and games of chance. They say “All games of chance are so many inconsiderate and irreverent appeals to divine providence. If we may not take the name of God in vain, neither may we trifle with his providence, or make sport of it for our amusement. Games of chance being abused for the purposes of gain are odious to the feelings of the moral and upright. Christian feeling has long since proscribed games of chance and all forms of gambling. There is but one sentiment on this subject among the truly pious and it has become the moral sense of the Christian church. To offend this sentiment is to offend the church.”

For a long time in early days the habit of raising money by lottery prevailed throughout the land. But it proved to be a most vicious and destructive agency in polluting the morals of the people.

The city of New Orleans and the whole state of Louisiana, we must continue to remember, were a part of the Synod of Mississippi and did not become separated from the Mississippi Synod till 1901, when the Synod of Louisiana was organized.

The Legislature of Louisiana had chartered a corporation in the state to raise money by lottery. In 1891 the license was about to expire and its promoters throughout the state were inaugurating a big effort to have the charter of the company renewed. It was a critical period in the history of the state. The evil effects of the lottery had been set forth during a long period of years and there was a growing spirit in Louisiana against renewing the license.

The Christian citizens all over the state agitated the question and were outspoken against it. The money power in favor of the lottery was very strong and it seemed as if the great evil was about to be fastened anew upon the state. The good people of all the neighboring states sympathized with Louisiana and they held meetings far and wide condemning the lottery.

In the fall of 1891 a great meeting was held in New Orleans in order to stir up the heart of the people and warn them to use all efforts to arrest the spirit of public gambling.

Some fine addresses were delivered, but Dr. Palmer of the Synod of Mississippi delivered the crowning address. His whole heart was aflame with the subject and the sympathy of the big congregation was with him. His address struck the right chord at the right time and it broke the backbone of the lottery. It was a great address and for the purpose of embalming it in the memory of our young people, we are giving it word for word as delivered that night. We leave out the cheers and the plaudits and the handclapping which were in evidence all through the speech. Read the rest of this entry »

It wasn’t all Gardiner’s fault!

In North/South Division of Old School on 01/04/2012 at 21:35

One standard understanding of the division of the Old School Presbyterian Church in 1861 is careful to state that the division was not over the issue of slavery but was rather the result of the Gardiner Spring Resolutions.  Fort Sumter had been fired upon in April of that year and the Assembly met in May. Accordingly and somewhat understandably, at least from his perspective, New York pastor Rev. Gardiner Spring brought resolutions to the floor of the Assembly which would require all Old School pastors to swear an oath of allegiance to the federal government.  The Princeton men and Southern pastors were notable in opposing the Resolutions. Professor Charles Hodge spoke against the Resolutions on the grounds that they were a patent violation of the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 31, paragraph 4:

Synods and councils are to handle, or conclude nothing, but that which is ecclesiastical: and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth, unless by way of humble petition in cases extraordinary; or, by way of advice, for satisfaction of conscience, if they be thereunto required by the civil magistrate.

Failing to heed Hodge’s arguments, the Assembly finally did adopt the Resolutions. Naturally, the Southern pastors could not agree to the Resolutions and upon withdrawing from the Assembly, promptly began their plans for a separate denomination.

But this division was not unforeseen. It can not all be laid at the feet of Gardiner Spring. For some time there had been talk of war and secession. For some time accordingly, there had also been talk of a separate denomination. This short article from The Christian Observer makes that clear:


The Southern Presbyterian states that this question now occupies the thoughts of many minds, and receives attention in some of the newspapers, both North and South. The Editor remarks that “the real essential unity of the Church of Christ does not depend on or require unity of outward ecclesiastical organization,” and that “this unity is often best preserved and promoted by separate and independent, ecclesiastical relations and associations.” After reference to the Presbyterian Church in England, Scotland, and Ireland in illustration of this remark, he gives his views of the question, above stated, in the following paragraph :

“We believe that it will be ultimately found desirable and proper for the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States to be completely organized separately and independently from the Presbyterian Church in the United States. We hope this will not be made necessary by any contrariety of opinion or conflict of feeling between us and our brethren at the North on the subject of slavery  or any other subject. We hope that the division when it is made, will be in entire peace, harmony, and good feeling. When we separate from the North ecclesiastically, we shall wish to do it, as we wish to do so politically, in peace and kindness, hoping to preserve with them forever relations of fraternity and affection. We will have no strife with them if we can help it. We will carry with us no heart burnings unless they compel us.

“We do not believe the result of this division will be injurious to the interests of either section of the Church, or to the great interests of truth and righteousness. If it were one forced upon us by a doctrinal, ethical, or disciplinary controversy–and so a schism in the faith, or affections, or order of the Church–it would be shameful, and wicked, and hurtful. But if it be, as we hope, an amicable separation, for the institution of an independent, external ecclesiastical organization, and for the reasons we have indicated, it must result in good to both parties.”

[excerpted from The Christian Observer, Vol. XL, no. 12 (21 March 1861), p. 46.]