Primary Sources for the Presbyterian Masses

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Prayer in Times of Apostasy

In J. Gresham Machen on 31/08/2012 at 13:50

This is a rare bit of early Westminster Seminary history, located today in an old issue of THE REFORMED PRESBYTERIAN ADVOCATE, dated June 1937Not three months following the death of J. Gresham Machen, the annual Day of Prayer was held on the Westminster campus in March of 1937. Arrangements had been made to have the Rev. John Cavitt Blackburn [1889-1959] present as the main speaker at the event.

Blackburn is interesting on several levels. His mother was Annie Williams Girardeau, one of the daughters of the Rev. Dr. John L. Girardeau. [His father, George A. Blackburn, authored The Life Work of John L. Girardeau, D.D., LL.D. John was educated at Columbia Theological Seminary, 1914-1918, back when the Seminary was still located in Columbia, SC. John also became quite the bibliophile. He had a significant library, built in part upon the libraries of his father and grandfather, and which collection later became a significant early addition to the library at Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, MS, by way of a donation from Blackburn’s widow. Rev. Blackburn’s library was apparently sizable enough that duplicates and other items even made their way to the Buswell Library at Covenant Theological Seminary.

It is also interesting to note Blackburn’s presence as indicative of a connection between Westminster Seminary and the Southern Presbyterian Church.  To engage in a bit of speculation, the invitation to have Rev. Blackburn speak at the annual Day of Prayer would have been extended months prior, probably before Machen’s death, and perhaps even by Dr. Machen himself. Without troubling ourselves to access Machen’s correspondence to confirm that idea, we do know that Dr. Machen had presented his lectures on the virgin birth of Christ at Columbia Theological Seminary, in Decatur, Georgia. These were the Thomas Smyth Lectures for 1927, and during that time, Rev. Blackburn pastored a church just twenty-some miles away. He could easily have attended those lectures. Lastly, Machen’s father served for a time as one of the trustees at the Seminary. So in light of those connections, it is entirely possible that Machen might have known Rev. Blackburn for many years prior to 1937.

Though he was a pastor for over thirty years, to my knowledge, this is the only surviving example of a sermon by Rev. Blackburn. Nor have I been able to locate a photograph of him.

PRAYER IN TIMES OF APOSTASY.
by the Rev. John C. Blackburn
[excerpted from The Reformed Presbyterian Advocate, 71.6 (June 1937): 90-96, and a reprint from an earlier issue of The Presbyterian, 43 (15 May 1937): 40-42.] Read the rest of this entry »

Library of Adolf von Harnack

In Church Historians on 21/08/2012 at 09:49

A bit astray from anything Presbyterian, but this is an interesting story that I just noted in an old issue of Christianity Today [original series, 1930-1949].
Adolf von Harnack was a noted Lutheran theologian and church historian [1851-1930].

LIBRARY OF ADOLF von HARNACK

The library of the great German theologian, Professor Dr. Adolf von Harnack has been bought by the Prussian Ministry for Public Worship and divided between the National Library and the theological faculty of the University of Berlin. Amongst the treasures of this collection is a very costly edition of the works of St. Augustine on parchment, which came into the possession of Professor Harnack in a strange manner. He was one day buying oranges in the market-place of Messina in Italy when his attention was attracted by the paper in which the fruit-seller packed his wares. A brief examination convinced him that the parchment belonged to a very rare edition of St. Augustine’s works. He bought up all the packing paper and as it happened that von Harnack was the first customer for whom the paper was used, he came into the possession of the complete edition.

[excerpted from Christianity Today, 3.8 (December 1932): 24.]
Lesson learned: Get to the market early!

President Edwards, a Presbyterian.

In Presbyterianism on 20/08/2012 at 23:12

The following brief account concerns the small controversy over the ecclesiastical views of Jonathan Edwards. There is a separate account, to the same conclusion, originally told by Dr. Archibald Alexander and then related by the Rev. R. J. Breckinridge on the pages of the Philadelphia magazine, The Presbyterian. [perhaps I can retrieve that article soon]. But for now, this account comes from a September issue of The Christian Observer, 1850 :

PRES. EDWARDS, A PRESBYTERIAN.

In a letter to the Rev. Dr. Erskine of Scotland, President Edwards , (whom Robert Hall calls, “the greatest of the sons of men,”) gives the following statement of his views in respect to Presbyterianism :—

“You are pleased, dear sir, very kindly to ask me, whether I could sign the Westminster Confession of Faith, and submit to the Presbyterian Form of Government. As to my subscribing to the substance of the Westminster Confession, there would be no difficulty; and as to Presbyterian Government, I have long been perfectly out of conceit of our unsettled, independent, confused way of Church government in this land, and the Presbyterian way has ever appeared to me most agreeable to the word of God, and the reason and nature of things.”

Such were the views of many pastors in New England, twenty-five years ago—and such we presume, are the views of many at this time, notwithstanding the efforts of Dr. Bacon, the Independent and others, to create and waken up prejudice against Presbyterianism.—It is very natural for an agitator, a man of progress, or of loose views in theology, to prefer some type of Independency. Without a Session to advise with him in the spiritual oversight of the Congregation, he can (if a manager) have his own way in controlling everything in his church. If a careful and discreet ruler, he may acquire more power in his charge as an Independent, than he could hope to gain as a Presbyterian minister.—Amenable to no permanent judicatory for the doctrines which he teaches, he can follow the impulses of his own nature, and teach all the contradictions and transcendentalism found in Dr. Bushnell’s book without losing his place or influence in his church and association.

But if it be desirable that the members of the Church should be duly represented in the administration of its spiritual government,—if the pastor should have responsible counselors, well acquainted with the Church, and all its interests and peculiarities, to aid him in this work, the Presbyterian form of government is to be preferred. It is equally important as a shield to the minister in many cases of discipline, as well as to render him duly responsible for his personal and official conduct, teaching, and character.

[excerpted from The Christian Observer, Vol. XXIX, No. 38 (21 September 1850): 150, columns 2-3.]

The question now, of course, is did that letter survive? Where are Erskine’s papers, including his correspondence, and which institution preserves that collection?

Patrick Henry vs. Intolerance

In Uncategorized on 18/08/2012 at 21:10

Located today as I’m browsing through an old 19th century newspaper (one of the perks of my job!)

PROSECUTION FOR PREACHING.

Patrick Henry vs. Intolerance.

Soon after Henry’s noted case of “Tobacco and the Preserves” as it was called, he heard of a case of oppression for conscience sake. The English church having been established by law in Virginia became as all such establishments are wont to do, exceedingly intolerant toward other sects. In prosecution of this system of conversion, three Baptist clergymen had been indicted at Fredericksburg for preaching the gospel of the Son of God contrary to the statute. Henry, hearing of this, rode some fifty miles to volunteer his services in defense of the oppressed. He entered the court, being unknown to all present save the bench and the bar, while the indictment was being read by the clerk. He sat within the bar, until the reading was finished, and the king’s attorney had concluded some remarks in defense of the prosecution, when he arose, reached out his hand for the paper, and without more ceremony, proceeded with the following speech:

“May it please your worship, I think I heard by the prosecutor, as I entered this house, the paper I now hold in my hand. If I have rightly understood, the king’s attorney of the colony has framed an indictment for the purpose of arraigning and punishing by imprisonment, three inoffensive persons before the bar of this court, for  a crime of great magnitude—as disturbers of the peace. May it please the court, what did I hear read? Did I hear it distinctly, or was it a mistake of my own?–Did I hear an expression, as if a crime, that these men, whom your worships are about to try for misdemeanor, are charged with—what?” and, continuing in a low, solemn, heavy tone, “preaching the gospel of the Son of God?” Pausing amidst the most profound silence and breathless astonishment, he slowly waved the paper three times around his head, when, lifting his hands and eyes to heaven, with peculiar and impressive energy, he exclaimed, “Great God!” The exclamation—the burst of feeling from the audience—were all over-powering. Mr. Henry resumed :

“May it please your worships: in a day like this—when truth is about to be aroused to claim its natural and inalienable rights—when the yoke of oppression, that has reached the wilderness of America, and the unnatural alliance of ecclesiastical and civil power, are about to be dissevered—at such a period, when liberty—liberty of conscience—is about to wake from her slumberings, and inquire into the reason of such charges as I find exhibited here to-day in this indictment!” Another fearful pause, while the speaker alternately cast his sharp, piercing eyes on the court and the prisoners, and resumed : “If I am not deceived, according to the contents of the paper I now hold in my hand, these men are accused of preaching the gospel of the Son of God! Great God!” Another long pause, while he again waved the indictment around his head—while a deeper impression was made on the auditory. Resuming his speech:

“May it please your worships:  There are periods in the history of man, when corruption and depravity have so long debased the human character, that man sinks under the weight of the oppressor’s hand—becomes his servile, his abject slave; he licks the hand that smites him; he bows in passive obedience to the mandates of the despot; and, in this state of servility, he receives his fetters of perpetual bondage.  But, may it please your worships, such a day has passed away! From that period, when our fathers left the land of their nativity for settlement in these American wilds—for liberty of conscience to worship their Creator according to their own conceptions of Heaven’s revealed will—from the moment they placed their feet upon the American continent, and, in the deeply imbedded forest, sought an asylum from persecution and tyranny,—from that moment, despotism was crushed—the fetters of darkness were broken, and Heaven decreed that men should be free—free to worship God according to the Bible. Were it not for this, in vain were all the sufferings and bloodshed to subjugate this New World, if we, their offspring, must still be oppressed and persecuted.

But, may it please your worships, permit me to inquire once more, for what are these men about to be tried? This paper says for preaching the gospel of the Saviour to Adam’s fallen race.” And in tones of thunder, he exclaimed, “What law have they violated?” While the third time, in a low, dignified manner, he lifted his eyes to heaven, and waved the indictment around his head. The court and audience were now wrought up to the most intense pitch of excitement. The face of the prosecuting attorney was palid and ghastly, and he appeared unconscious that his whole frame was agitated with alarm; while the judge, in a tremulous voice, put an end to the scene, now becoming excessively painful, by the authoritative declaration, “Sheriff, discharge those men.”

[excerpted from The Christian Observer, XXIX, No. 2 (12 January 1850): 1, columns 2-3.; emphasis added]

Samuel Miller on Literary Degrees

In Samuel Miller, The Christian Observer on 18/08/2012 at 11:34

THE ORIGIN OF LITERARY DEGREES.

The practice of conferring honors of literary institutions on individuals of distinguished erudition, commenced in the twelfth century, when the Emperor Lothaire, having found in Italy a copy of the Roman law, ordained that it should be publicly expounded in the schools; and that he might give encouragement to the study, he further ordered that the public professors of this law should be dignified with the title of Doctors. The first person created a doctor, after this ordinance of the Emperor, was Bulgarius Hugolinus, who was greatly distinguished for his learning and literary labors. Not long afterwards, the practice of creating doctors was borrowed from the lawyers by divines also, who in their schools publicly taught divinity, and conferred degrees upon those who had made great proficiency in science. The plan of conferring degrees in divinity, was first adopted in the Universities of Bologna, Oxford, and Paris. (See Mather’s Magnalia, Christi Americana, B, IV, p. 134.)

It is remarkable that the celebrated Dr. Samuel Johnson, when he had become eminent in literature, could not obtain the degree of Master of Arts, from Trinity College, Dublin, though powerful interests were made in his behalf for this purpose, by Mr. Pope, Lord Gower, and others.—Instances of the failure of similar applications, made in favor of characters still more distinguished than Johnson then was, are also on record. So cautious and reserved were literary institutions, a little more than half a century ago, in bestowing their honors.

Miller’s Life of John Rodgers.

[excerpted from The Christian Observer, vol. xxix, no. 3 (19 January 1850): page 1, column 4.]

 

 

50 Days of Prayer for the PCA

In Presbyterian Church in America on 16/08/2012 at 14:20

I’m pleased to announce that the PCA Historical Center now has a complete collection of the volumes issued annually as part of the “50 Days of Prayer for the PCA” program.

Our thanks to Dr. Michael F. Ross and his administrative assistant, Kim Westbrook, for their invaluable assistance in gathering these materials for preservation here at the Historical Center.  This is yet another way in which we seek to have the materials that will tell the full story behind the PCA. It is also an important collection in respect of the spiritual discipline of prayer.

Since 2002, Dr. Michael F. Ross has headed up a program of prayer for the Presbyterian Church in America that is closely tied to the annual meeting of the PCA’s General Assembly. The first three annual prayer devotionals, 2002-2004, covered the 150 Psalms. Those devotionals were later combined as a single volume and published by Christian Focus in 2006 under the title In the Light of the Psalms.

Dr. Ross is currently the senior pastor of Christ Covenant church in Matthews, North Carolina, and has been an ordained minister in the PCA since 1982. His previous pastorates were with the Surfside Presbyterian church, Myrtle Beach, SC [1982-92] and the Trinity Presbyterian church, Jackson, MS [1992-2006].

The cover of each volume is reproduced below. To view larger images for a given cover, go to this page. To view the text of these volumes, please see the links provided at this page on the Christ Covenant church web site.

Related collections: See also Prayer: A Noble Exercise for the PCA. Prayer guide for the Assembly-wide week of prayer, October 7-12, 1985. Pb, 24 p.

2002
2003
2004
2005
2002
2003
2004
2005
2006
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The Westminster Confession and the Amendments of 1903.

In J. Gresham Machen, J. Oliver Buswell on 11/08/2012 at 16:45

According to this account by Dr. J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., there was apparently some confusion during the Second General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church [nee Presbyterian Church of America], over the matter of how exactly to dispose of the 1903 PCUSA amendments to the Westminster Confession. Buswell writes here in THE CHRISTIAN BEACON, 17.17 (5  June 1952): 2, 4.

THE WESTMINSTER CONFESSION AND THE AMENDMENTS OF 1903.

We who are Calvinists are such not because we admire the work of a man, but because we admire the work of a man who clearly expounded the system of doctrine taught in the Scriptures. When we speak of great historical Calvinistic documents the word “Calvinistic” signifies the preservation in sharp and clear outline of what the Bible teaches. The Westminster Confession of Faith, for example, is a basic document for all English-speaking Presbyterian, Reformed, Congregational, and Baptist churches. The Savoy Confession of the historical Congregational Churches (Congregationalism before the apostasy of that denomination) is The Westminster Confession with a change in one chapter only. The Philadelphia Confession, which is a basic document for large groups of Baptist churches in the Southern states and in England, is The Westminster Confession with changes in two chapters only. The New Hampshire Confession, which is accepted by many Baptist churches in the Northern states is largely adapted from The Westminster Confession. It is therefore an interdenominational document in the truest sense. It is a rich deposit of treasure in the common heritage of Bible-believing Christians. We Calvinists accept The Westminster Confession not as being an infallible document, not as being verbally inerrant, but as being thoroughly based upon the Scriptures, and as setting forth in clear and positive language the integrated system of doctrine which the Scriptures teach.

In 1903 the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. adopted certain amendments in order to please groups which were doctrinally weak and poorly instructed. Dr. Benjamin Warfield, one of the greatest Calvinistic teachers of the past generation, strongly protested against the adoption of these amendments, but when they were adopted, Dr. Warfield declared (as Dr. J. Gresham Machen related the matter to me) that these amendments, weak and misleading as they were, did not actually change “the system of doctrine.”

In the months preceding May, 1936, Dr. Machen explained to me that he did not wish to take his stand as contending for any change in the constitution of the Church (Presbyterian, U.S.A.) as it then existed, though he hoped that the amendments of 1903 might sometime be eliminated. His great fight at that time was that the Foreign Mission Board (and other agencies of the Church) might at least be true to the simple elementary principles of the Gospel. He could be loyal to the constitution as it was then, since, as Dr. Warfield had said, the constitution, in spite of the weak and misleading character of the 1903 amendments, still set forth the system of doctrine taught in the Scriptures.

I understood Dr. Machen to advocate that if we should be compelled to form a new church, it would be wise to start with the doctrinal constitution just as it had been in the U.S.A. Church at the time the controversy arose. It was on this basis that Dr. Machen organized the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions. Read the rest of this entry »

Latest Accession at the Historical Center

In PCA Historical Center on 06/08/2012 at 16:22

The PCA Historical Center is blessed today with the accession of about seven volumes of a periodical titled The Church at Home and Abroad. This was a PCUSA journal covering both home and foreign missions, and the issues received cover all but four years of the 1887-1898 run of this journal.

But why is the PCA Historical Center gathering old PCUSA publications?

The most direct way of answering that question is to give you an overview of the holdings here at the PCA Historical Center, which can be broken down into four basic groups:

I. Organizational Records – Records of the PCA and its agencies, plus the records of five other conservative Presbyterian denominations. To list these:

  • Presbyterian Church in America [1973-ongoing]
  • Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod [1965-1982]
  • Evangelical Presbyterian Church [1961-1065], formerly the Bible Presbyterian Church, Columbus Synod [1956-1961]
  • Bible Presbyterian Church, 1938-1956
  • Reformed Presbyterian Church, General Synod [1833-1965]
  • Covenant Presbytery [1971-1984]

II. Manuscript Collections – The papers of over one hundred forty people connected with the above denominations. These collections typically include correspondence, published and unpublished writings, as well as materials representative of each person’s involvement with the Church.

III. Congregational Histories – Published and unpublished history materials for over 700 local churches, most of which are affiliated with the PCA.

IV. The Research Library – At present this is a modest library, with a goal of collecting titles in all aspects of American Presbyterianism. The purpose of this library is to provide the larger context or setting for the archival collections housed here at the Historical Center. Library holdings currently total about 5000 volumes, and work is underway to better manage these holdings, by building a database or “online public access catalog” (OPAC for short). As we continue to build the research library as an aspect of our larger Collection, we have more resources with which to serve our patrons, and it is here where these issues of The Church at Home and Abroad fit in to the larger scheme of things.

Archives don’t just preserve materials. If all an archives did was to house materials away such that no one ever utilized them, what would be the point of that? Physical control or acquisition of documents and then their preservation in a closely monitored environment—these are just the first steps in the work of any archives. The real work or purpose of an archives is to then make that material accessible to the public. Intellectual control of those same documents involves knowing what you have on the shelves and being able to provide patrons with access to that material. This is where the Internet has been such a helpful tool for archives, in publicizing their holdings. Finding aids, or indexes, are prepared for each collection as it is processed, and these finding aids are then posted to the Historical Center’s web site.

In a similar way, the Center’s research library needed a convenient management tool, and an online public access catalog was the obvious way to accomplish this goal. Most OPAC software is expensive, but I was able to locate an open source, free software which seems to have the needed features. Since February of this year, I’ve slowly been building the database for the OPAC, and now have over 1250 entries, or about 25% of the research library’s current holdings. For a sneak peak at the OPAC, click here.  As an added bonus on the OPAC web page, note too that there are links at the bottom of the page for indexes to various 19th- and 20th-century periodicals. It’s unlikely that I will compile a similar index for The Church at Home and Abroad, but it is, nonetheless, a blessing to have this added resource available for all who use the Historical Center.

Ruling Elders as Moderators

In Elders, Presbyterian Church in the U.S. [PCUS] on 02/08/2012 at 09:36

The moderator of the first General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America was a ruling elder–the Hon. W. Jack Williamson. Since that time, the PCA has established a tradition of alternating between ruling elders and teaching elders in its nomination and election of moderators for the General Assembly. But this practice remains unusual among Presbyterian denominations. Even within our own ecclesiastical heritage, it wasn’t always so, as Rev. R.C. Reed explains in this review of the PCUS General Assembly of 1914 :

“The Assembly elected a ruling elder to preside over its sessions. The law which makes the ruling elder eligible to the moderatorship of all our church courts is but a corollary of a fundamental principle of Presbyterianism–the parity in authority of all Presbyters. Our church did right to put this corollary into the form of law, and it ought not to suffer the law to lapse into a condition of innocuous desuetude. We cannot be accused of working it overtime. The law was enacted in 1886. It was seven years after that date before it received its first practical recognition in the election of Hon. J.W. Lapsley. Only four ruling elders have presided over our Assemblies in the twenty-eight years since the way was open for them to be honored with this responsibility. Always there is good material among the ministerial members to fill the office, as there was in the last Assembly, and there is never any reluctance on their part to serve, but they, as well as others, allow the propriety of occasionally electing a ruling elder in order to do justice to the principle of parity.”

[excerpted from “The General Assembly of 1914” by R.C. Reed, in Union Seminary Review 26.1 (October 1914): 4.]

This change to the constitution of the Presbyterian Church, U.S. was enacted in 1886, as Rev. Reed notes. The overture to enact this change first came from the Synod of Virginia and from the Presbytery of Chickasaw, in 1884. The Minutes of the 1885 Assembly (p. 432) note that:

The Committee on Bills and Overtures reported on the overtures from the Synod of Virginia and from the Presbytery of Chickasaw, which were sent to the last Assembly and referred by it to this (see Minutes of 1884, pages 249 and 250), asking an amendment of the Form of Government in reference to the duties of ruling elders when elected moderators of church courts. Pending the discussion, a substitute was offered by the Rev. P.T. Penick, which was adopted, and is as follows:

That the request contained in these overtures be granted and that the Assembly hereby recommends and sends down to the Presbyteries for their advice and consent thereunto the following:

That to the clause in the Form of Government, Chapter IV., Section 3, Paragraph 2, stating that ruling elders “possess the same authority in the courts of the Church as the ministers of the word,” shall be added this sentence, “When, however, a ruling elder is moderator of a Presbytery, Synod, or General Assembly, any official duty devolving upon him the performance of which requires the exercise of functions pertaining only to the teaching elder, shall be remitted by him for execution to such minister of the word, being a member of the court, as he may select. Read the rest of this entry »

No Time to Debate It.

In Presbyterian Church in the U.S. [PCUS] on 01/08/2012 at 13:15

This is a portion of an interesting review of the 1914 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, U.S. (aka, Southern), written by Columbia Theological Seminary professor, R.C. Reed [1851-1925].
His report is interesting for dating the noted change in the conduct of the Southern Presbyterian Assembly, from that of a more deliberative body to something more akin to a business model. The Assembly had been in the habit of meeting for nine days, and now had been meeting for only six, since 1912. Here Rev. Reed complains of the hurried nature of the Assembly and the resulting lack of patient, reasoned debate. Elsewhere we have noted that on one occasion, the Rev. John L. Girardeau spoke at length for two hours on the floor of the Assembly, in 1880. More remarkable still, the Assembly paid attention to his every word!

From the Union Seminary Review, vol. 26, no. 1 (October 1914)

The General Assembly, reviewed by Rev. Professor R.C. Reed, Columbia, SC.

The fifty-fourth General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States, met in the Central Church, Kansas City, Mo., May 21, 1914, and was dissolved at 3:30 P.M., Thursday, May 28th. This is the third Assembly in succession which has limited the span of its life to six working days. These precedents will probably have the force of law for the future. Time was when the Assembly had to rush its business toward the close, in order to dissolution by the end of the ninth day from date of organization. The volume of business has increased rather than diminished. The recent Assemblies have shortened the time not by covering less ground, but by increasing the speed. The liberty of speech has been abridged. it has come to pass that by the time a speaker gets fairly launched, the cry of “question,” “question,” warns the speaker that further effort to get a hearing for his views will be useless. Age and distinguished services do not secure immunity from such discourtesy. The Assembly is ceasing to be a deliberative body, and coming to be an organization merely for business routine.

Obviously, our Assemblies are inoculated with the speed-madness of the age. It could hardly be otherwise. The members, who compose the Assembly, are accustomed by the use of the telephone, rapid transit, and other time-saving devices, to dispatch business at a rate that would have made a former generation dizzy. The speed at which we live is constantly increasing, with the result that we are growing more and more restless. The slightest delay is irksome. The train that pulls into the station ten minutes late creates almost a mob-spirit in those who have been constrained to lose so much of their precious time. When men, who live and move and have their being in an atmosphere charged with the frenzy of hurry, come together in a General Assembly, it is not surprising that they should begrudge every minute that does not show a decided progress in the calendar of business. They are not in the habit of having time to spare. Speech-making is not business, rather it is a clog on the machinery, and the less of it the sooner the members can record their votes and get at something else. The moderator is a good moderator in proportion as he rushes the grist through the mill. Read the rest of this entry »