Primary Sources for the Presbyterian Masses

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On the Celebration of the Supper by the Courts

In Uncategorized on 31/10/2013 at 15:43

Over on the Puritan Board discussion group, ARP pastor Ben Glaser (Ellisville, MS) put forward a great question:—

“When did Presbyteries, Synods, and General Assemblies begin regularly having the Lord’s Supper at their meetings?”

With a bit of digging, I found that in the Southern Presbyterian Church, it wasn’t until 1912, at the 52d General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, U.S., that we find this:

The Standing Committee on Devotional Exercises presented the following resolution, which was adopted:

We recommend that it be a standing rule in our Assembly that immediately following the Moderator’s opening sermon, the sacrament of the Lord’s supper shall be celebrated, the retiring Moderator presiding.
— W.O. Cochrane, Chairman.

Switching over to the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (aka, Northern Presbyterian Church), we have to go all the way back to 1871 to find this report spread on their Minutes, at pp. 577-578:

6. The Lord’s Supper.—In regard to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, in connection with the stated meetings of the judicatories of the Church, your Committee feel hardly prepared to recommend any absolute and universal change. And yet it cannot be denied, that grave objections exist as to the manner in which this sacred service is often observed. Too much, as a matter of form, crowded in between hours of pressing business, if not of exciting discussion, with little or no preparatory exercises, it is not strange that this, which should be the richest feast of blessing, the very climax of privilege, has so often proved dull and formal, and of little spiritual advantage. As originally instituted by our Lord, this sacrament was a “supper,” observed at an appointed “hour,” “when the even was come” of “the same night in which he was betrayed.” Might not many impressive associations be secured if, in the imitation of his example, it were, whenever possible, appointed for [I]an evening service[/I], exclusively distinct from all the business of the day?

“With desire,” he said, “have I desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer.” Ought not his ministering servants, in their stated assemblies, to guard against any influences which may tend to cool the ardor of their “desire” for the recurrence of the Sacred Feast?

“Let a man examine himself,” said the apostle, “and so let him eat that bread and drink that cup.” Ought not careful arrangements to be made for “attending thereto with diligence, preparation, and prayer”? And, unless due opportunity be given for such preparation, would it not be better, at our ecclesiastical meetings, not to appoint the formal service at all?
Your Committee recommend, that the attention of Judicatories be called to this important subject, and that, independent of past customs, they be enjoined to take such action with reference to it, as may seem most in harmony with the Divine arrangement, and best calculated to promote the spiritual welfare of themselves and the congregations with which from time to time they may meet.

Resolved, That the Committee of Arrangements for the next General Assembly be instructed, to provide for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, on the evening of the first day of its sessions.

Looking back in the older Minutes of General Assembly for the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. (Old School), those prior to 1869, we find that meetings are opened and closed with prayer, as we would expect. And there is mention of devotional exercises, but there is no mention of any observance of the Lord’s Supper, so far as I could find.

Two possibilities occur then:
1. Either the observance of the Lord’s Supper at General Assembly (and presumably at Presbytery and/or Synod as well) was a practice that has its beginning among the New School Presbyterians.
or,
2. When Assemblies met for eight days or more, as they used to, the included Lord’s Day was an obvious time of worship and likely also for celebration of the Supper. So perhaps as Assemblies began to meet for six or fewer days, the need began to be felt for more structured times of worship, with inclusion of the Supper.

Testing the first thesis, I found in the Minutes of the 1868 New School Assembly, on page 42, this note:

The Assembly met, and united with a large congregation of Christian believers in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

That Assembly had convened on Friday, May 22d, 1868, and met Saturday in continuation. Then there is no reference whatsoever in the Minutes as to what that Assembly did on Sunday. Business continued again on Monday through the week, and on Friday, celebration of the Supper at 3 PM. Business continued on Saturday, adjourned, no mention of Sunday, and business concluded on Monday, June 1st. There was only the one observance of the Lord’s Supper on Thursday, May 28th.

In the 1839 New School GA Minutes, on page 13:

On Saturday evening, a quarter before 8 o’clock, a Lecture preparatory to the sacrament was preached by the Rev. Dr. Williston; and on Sabbath, P.M., at 5 o’clock, the Lord’s supper was administered, in the First Presbyterian Church [Philadelphia], to the members of the Assembly, and to a large congregation of Christian Brethren, according to the previous arrangement.

Admittedly there, in 1839, celebration of the Supper took place on the Lord’s Day, but it was nonetheless administered to the Assembly. Also noted is the fact that the Supper was not observed at the opening of that Assembly, but rather was observed later while the Assembly was in session. Checking other New School Minutes, there does not appear to have been any celebration of the Supper in 1840, 1843, or 1855. But in 1849 and 1850, at each of those Assemblies, there was the observance of the Supper on Thursday, at 4 PM and 7:45 PM respectively.

So while they might have been spotty in their observance, there does seem to be a case for the idea that the celebration of the Lord’s Supper by the higher courts of the Church is a practice that comes out of New School Presbyterianism. It is only after the reunion of 1869-70 that the practice becomes regularized in the PCUSA.

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Difficulty in Dr. Plumer’s Church

In The Christian Observer on 26/08/2013 at 19:42

plumerws02Some eighteen years before his decease, Dr. William Swan Plumer was caught up in a controversy—a conflict between his convictions and his situation in a Northern church, in the midst of the Civil War. Plumer was attempting to maintain the doctrine of the spirituality of the church, and it apparently did not set well with some of his congregation. The following article describes the situation, though you will note that the editor, at the end, had to add his viewpoint.
As a result of the controversy, Plumer resigned his pulpit and his chair of theology at Western Theological Seminary. He moved to Philadelphia, where he served as Stated Supply of the Arch Street Presbyterian Church and prepared books for publication. In 1865 he was installed as the pastor of Second Presbyterian Church in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. The following year he was called to Columbia Theological Seminary to fill Dr. Thornwell’s chair. There he spent the remainder of his life teaching, writing, and preaching.
To read Dr. Plumer’s farewell letter to the congregation of Central Presbyterian Church, click here.
[HT: Rev. Caleb Cangelosi]

DIFFICULTY IN DR. PLUMER’S CHURCH.
The following account of Dr. Plumer’s difficulty, which we publish at the request of a gentleman, formerly a member of his Session, is condensed from a report in the Pittsburg Evening Chronicle, of June 12:

Some two or three months since, a serious difficulty arose in the congregation in Allegheny, Pa., under the ministry of Dr. Plumer, resulting from his alleged want of sympathy with Lincoln’s war policy. He was requested by some of his members to pray for the success of the Federal arms; but he declined, alleging that the whole question of the war, its causes and results, was a political matter, with which the ministers of God had nothing to do, and that he did not feel justified in alluding to the subject at all in his petitions. He was further firm in the belief that no number of battles or victories could bring about an honorable peace, and he could not, consequently, ask God to give our arms success or unite in thanksgiving for the same.

This refusal led to a church meeting, in which the whole subject was discussed at length. Resolutions were introduced deploring the existence of the war and maintaining it as the duty of all good Christians to sustain our Government in putting down rebellion, and securing the proper punishment of traitors and rebels. It was further requested that, in leading the devotions of the congregation, the pastor should manifest full sympathy with the sentiments of his congregation, and give them utterance at the Throne of Grace. An earnest discussion followed, and after a warm debate the resolutions were laid aside and the following “substitute” adopted :

Memorial for Wm. Swan Plumer – 1881

In Uncategorized on 26/08/2013 at 12:56

Plummer, William Swan [1826-1880]Filed under “They just don’t write ’em like that any more.” — Just came across the 1881 resolution by the 1881 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, US, on page 363 of their Minutes:

The Committee recommend the adoption of the following Minute:

Whereas, it pleased the Great Head of the Church to remove, in October 1880, from the scene of his earthly labors, that he might be with Him where He is, and behold His glory, Rev. W. S. Plumer, D.D., LL.D., Professor of Pastoral and Casuistic Theology in Columbia Seminary, by appointment of this body:

Resolved, That this Assembly does now record its testimony to the personal worth, eminent piety, unremitting industry and zeal, and official fidelity of this distinguished servant of Christ. Our deceased brother was a rare gift of the ascended Redeemer to his militant Church, and we render to Him thanks for that grace which qualified our brother for his varied and abundant labors—for his long and useful life, and for the testimony of his lips, life and death to the truth, preciousness and power of that gospel which was his comfort, joy and trust, living and dying.

A History Lesson, by Robert Strong

In Auburn Affirmation (1924), Importance of History, J. Gresham Machen, Presbyterian Church in America, Presbyterian Church in the U.S. [PCUS], Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., Presbyterian Journal, Robert Dick Wilson, Westminster Theological Seminary on 29/07/2013 at 09:28

I often come across the most interesting and useful things while searching out a patron’s request for some article or other material. For context, this article was written in the midst of those years leading up to the formation of the Presbyterian Church in America. Dr. Strong’s audience would have been those men who were considering leaving the old Southern Presbyterian denomination in order to form a new, faithful Church.

A History Lesson
by ROBERT STRONG [1908-1980, and pastor of the Trinity Presbyterian Church, Montgomery, AL, 1959-1973]

[The Presbyterian Journal, 27.42 (12 February 1969): 9-11.]

The struggle for the faith in the Presbyterian Church USA has been protracted. I grew up in that church and was ordained in it years ago when it was called the “Northern Presbyterian Church.” Thus I knew at first hand the issues as well as some of the people involved in the conflict.

Beginning in the nineteenth century, the strife deepened in intensity in the twentieth century and came to a climax in the 1920’s. Awareness of the rising tide of unbelief, and resistance to it, occurred in a spectacular way:

In 1923 the General Assembly endorsed adherence to five cardinal points of doctrine: the verbal inspiration of Scripture, the virgin birth of Christ, His mighty miracles, His substitutionary atonement and His bodily resurrection.

In reaction came the Auburn Affirmation, so-called because men of Auburn Seminary were its authors and from Auburn, New York it was distributed to gain additional signatures. In time, these amounted to 1100 names.

Cause and Effect

The Auburn Affirmation was in two parts: The first was an attack upon the right of the General Assembly to single out certain doctrines when the Northern Presbyterian Church was already committed to a system of doctrine as set forth in the Westminster Confession of Faith. This was specious logic. This was illogic! This was evasive action. Read the rest of this entry »

Dr. Rice’s Childhood.

In Uncategorized on 02/07/2013 at 08:04

riceJohn Holt Rice, the second son of Benjamin and Catherine Rice, was born near the small town of New London, in the county of Bedford, on the 28th of November, A.D. 1777. From the first dawn of intellect, he discovered an uncommon capacity for learning, and a still more uncommon disposition to piety. We have seen some reason to believe that like Samuel, he was called in the very morning of his life; at so early an hour indeed that he could not distinguish the voice of God from that of his own mother—-so soft and so tender was its tone. It was, in truth, the first care of this excellent woman to train up her infant child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord; and you might have seen the weak and sickly boy always at her knee, reading his Bible or Watt’s Psalms, to her listening ear, and catching the first lessons of religion from her gentle tongue. No wonder that he ever retained a most grateful sense of her special service in this respect, and warmly cherished her sacred memory in his filial heart.

As a further evidence of his early piety, we are told that whilst he was yet a boy, and hardly more than seven or eight years old, he established a little private prayer-meeting with his brothers and sisters, and led the exercises of it himself with great apparent devotion. We are not informed however, at what time exactly he made a public profession of religion; but we understand that it was probably when he was about fifteen or sixteen years of age.

[excerpted from The Charleston Observer, VII.7 (16 February 1833): 27, column 2.]

Post-GA, 1836

In Old School/New School Division, Princeton Theological Seminary, The Charleston Observer on 01/07/2013 at 09:04

I continue to gather primary source materials on the events leading up to the momentous 1837 split of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. The following article appears to have been written by the Rev. Benjamin Gildersleeve, editor of The Charleston Observer and one who showed some sympathies for the New School side of the debate. Here he writes in opposition to talk of division, utilizing to good effect an article which had recently appeared in the Princeton Seminary journal, The Biblical Repertory.

THE PRESENT ASPECT OF OUR CHURCH.
[excerpted from The Charleston Observer, 10.40 (1 October 1836): 157, columns 2-5.]

The Biblical Repertory for July, contains an able review of the proceedings of the last General Assembly, and as the question of a division of the Church has been mooted even at the South, we take pleasure in copying from it the concluding remarks which we recommend to the particular attention of our readers.

1. In the first place, nothing, in so momentous a concern, should be done under the sudden impulse of even good feeling. A zeal for truth, a sense of wrong, a conviction of danger to the best interests of the church may be so excited by recent events, as to urge even wise men, to measures, which in cooler moments neither their judgments nor conscience would approve.

2. Nothing should be done on vague or indefinite grounds. Men are very apt to satisfy themselves of the propriety of taking almost any course, not obviously immoral, if they feel that they are actuated by good motives. It is not enough, however, in such matters, that we should desire to promote the purity of the church, or the general interests of religion; we must have some definite principles, which will commend themselves to the understanding and conscience, and which will hear the scrutiny of posterity———of the bar of God. We must be able to give a reason for our conduct which shall satisfy the impartial and competent, that it is right and wise; that it necessarily results from our principles. We consider this a matter of great importance. Every day affords melancholy examples of the confusion and inconsistency which arise from acting on the mere general ground of doing what seems to make for truth and righteousness. Measures involving precisely the same principles are opposed or advocated by the same individuals, as they happen to make for or against the cause or the party which seems to them to be the best. We see constantly in our public judicatories, the power of the courts extended or contracted, the rules of procedure enforced to the letter or construed away to nothing, as the occasion requires. This is not always, nor, we trust generally, the result of dishonesty. It is the result of the want of fixed principles. Hence this inconsistency; this justifying to-day, what was condemned yesterday; this applauding in one man what is censured in another. If so much evil results from this source, in matters of ordinary routine, what must be the consequences of random action, on occasions which threaten organic changes, whose effects are to last for ages? Read the rest of this entry »

After Four Hundred Years

In Presbyterian Comment, Wm. Stanford Reid on 26/06/2013 at 11:53

Dusting off one of the periodical collections at the PCA Historical Center, I noticed this brief article in the inaugural issue of the Canadian Presbyterian journal, PRESBYTERIAN COMMENT, edited by the Rev. Dr. William Stanford Reid. After a brief introductory comment in that first issue, the following was Dr. Reid’s first editorial in the new publication:

After Four Hundred Years
by William Stanford Reid

In the year 1536, from the press of Thomas Platter and Balthasar Lasium, Basle publishers, appeared a thin volume of some seven chapters bearing the title of Christianae Religionis Institutio (The Institutes of the Christian Religion) written by a young French Protestant refugee, John Calvin. Although presented to the world as a defence of French Protestants, it was in fact a short statement of the new religious thought which came to be known as “Reformed Theology.” For the next twenty-three years Calvin repeatedly revised his work until in 1559 it appeared in its final form, now very much larger, and one of the most important books ever to come from a European press.

The reason for our valuing the Institutes so highly is that this work became the foundation of much subsequent Protestant thought. It did so for one thing because the author’s concise thinking and expression made it easy to understand. When Calvin wrote, he desired above everything else, to convince his readers of the truth of his message, not to impress them with his great knowledge, nor to confuse them with his swelling words.

The chief cause of the book’s influence was, therefore, the fact that men were able to see Calvin’s teaching so clearly. Since its first appearance it has been a classic, if not the classic, statement of the biblical doctrine of the grace of God in Christ Jesus. By it many people have found salvation in Christ, while others have been strengthened and built up in their faith.

Thus Calvin’s Institutes has been a truly formative work. Indeed in the case of some whole nations such as Holland or Scotland it has become part of the national heritage, helping to mold the people’s character.

But what is of more importance, today the thinking of Calvin, particularly as it is expressed in his Institutes, is experiencing a present revival throughout the Christian world. New translations and new editions of old translations are appearing in many different tongues: English, French, Japanese, Indonesian, etc. Thus Calvin’s influence, which some fifty years ago seemed about to die, is once again making itself felt.

The reason for this is that our own day is very similar to that of Calvin. Sixteenth century Europe faced the threat of a Moslem invasion from the east. At the same time new worlds and new peoples were coming into Europe’s orbit with Spanish and Portuguese colonial expansion. But what was even more important, Europe was passing through a veritable economic, social and intellectual revolution as the old order disintegrated before men’s eyes. Thus Calvin, writing for the sixteenth century, speaks to us today in our own terms concerning our own problems and needs.

Because of this, we who are Presbyterians and who owe much to Calvin and his Institutes which form the foundation of our Confession and catechisms, should desire to attain a greater understanding and knowledge of this man’s great work. “He being dead yet speaketh,” and if we listen we shall find that his words are indeed a guide for us in both faith and action.

It might be well, therefore, if our ministers began instructing our people once again in Calvin’s doctrines, and if our people began reading his works in order that they might be built up in their faith in these trying days.

[excerpted from Presbyterian Comment [Montreal, Canada], vol. 1, no. 1 (January 1960), p. 2.]

Archibald Alexander: “The Lord will provide.”

In Archibald Alexander, St. Louis Evangelist on 07/06/2013 at 11:08

“When I look for the acquaintances of my youth, alas! they are almost all gone. I have been led, for the most part, along a smooth path.

Browsing through an old issue of THE ST. LOUIS EVANGELIST, I spotted the following brief article reporting on a letter from Dr. Archibald Alexander, dated 1822. Dr. Alexander was born in 1772 and would have been fifty years old when he wrote this letter. Given his age at that writing, his opening sentence is particularly striking, from a modern perspective. Equally intriguing are the biographical insights provided in this letter and the view expressed by Dr. Alexander on providing for one’s family and later years.

INTERESTING RELIC

Rev. Dr. Archibald Alexander [1772-1851]We have in our possession a long and interesting letter written by Rev. Dr. Archibald Alexander, from Philadelphia, while attending the meeting of the General Assembly, dated May 27, 1822, addressed to “Rev. Robert Marshall, near Lexington, Ky.,” sent by his son, Rev. James Marshall, upon his leaving Princeton Theological Seminary for his home and a field of labor in Kentucky. Most of it is in reference to his “unexceptionable conduct,” his “strength and originality of mind,” and the prospect that “he will be a forcible speaker, a useful man, and become an important member of the Church in the Western country.” We give an extract of general interest:

When I look for the acquaintances of my youth, alas! they are almost all gone. I have been led, for the most part, along a smooth path. External circumstances have been favorable, but I have been subjected often and long to severe conflicts. Perhaps in prosperity I have endured as much pain as those who have passed through many external afflictions. I have now a large family, and have made scarcely any provision for their subsistence when I shall be taken from them; but I am not troubled on this account. “The Lord will provide.” I have seen in so many cases the little benefit which has resulted from the fruit of anxious toil for posterity, that I feel content with my situation and prospects.

Such views from one so revered, so wise and so spiritual as was Dr. Archibald Alexander, we doubt not will be read with interest and profit by all. If we are in moderate circumstances, and our children promise to be upright, useful, respectable in life, we should be more than content; we should be joyful and grateful. People in affluent circumstances have more to fear than others for their descendants. “The lust of the world, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life” accomplish their slaughter chiefly among the rich. This is plain to all who are old enough to have observed the histories of households for forty years; and it is not surprising when we remember that evils in the heart are not so ruinous as when both in the heart and the life.–Herald and Presbyter.

[excerpted from The St. Louis Evangelist, Vol. 1, no. 3 (March 1875): 19, columns 3-4. Reprinted from The Herald and Presbyter]

Harmony S.S. Society

In Uncategorized on 28/05/2013 at 20:04

A few thoughts on the value of the Westminster Shorter Catechism,excerpted from THE CHARLESTON OBSERVER, 15 October 1836, p. 166, columns 2-3:—

 

A-218Ought the Assembly’s Shorter Catechism to be used in Sabbath Schools; and if so, to what extent?

We have seldom heard a more eloquent eulogium on the Catechism, than was elicited in the discussion. All seemed ready and anxious to speak in its praise. We can give only a few disconnected sentences from our notes.

What is the Catechism? An epitome of all the great truths and distinguishing doctrines of the Gospel. He who learns that, has the substance of the Old and New Testaments. No book, except the Bible, is so near perfection. Those who have done most to bless the world, have loved the doctrines just as they are taught in the Catechism. The Puritans came to these shores to cherish these doctrines. “But,” says one, “it is no use to teach children what they cannot understand.” All past experience shows that tis is not true. They must be tuaght things which they cannot understand. I owe more, said the speaker, to my knowledge of these doctrines, as tuaght in that manual, than to my three years’ study in the Theological Seminary. There is a great deal of thought in the Catechism; more than in some of our libraries.

I was once, said another speaker, taught the Catechism, and I never think of these truths without the tenderest recollection of my parents, now in heaven.

I have reason to bless the God of heaven, (said the moderator, probably the oldest Minister present) that I was taught that sytstem of doctrine while I was almost in the arms of my mother. When I grew up so as to compare it with the Bible, I found there was a unison. My old Minister used to teach it at the close of the common school. Then we were called orthodox. That man is now sleeping with his fathers. A new set of Ministers have arisen, who have discarded the Catechism, and now but few can be found in that place, who hold the doctrines as there taught.

Double Handed Folly

In Signs of the Times, The Charleston Observer on 27/05/2013 at 14:19

Truly there is nothing new under the sun. This from THE CHARLESTON OBSERVEROctober 8, 1836:

MORALS! KNIVES!!

The practice of carrying knives and Pistols in our peaceable community prevails to an alarming extent, and should be expressly prohibited by an act of the Legislature as unlawful weapons. Lord Ellenborough it will be recollected, caused a law to be passed making it a capital offense to stab, wound, or maim, with felonious intent; and if we cannot check a fierce and furious spirit in other sections of the country, means, strong and effectual means must be adopted to prevent it here. Persons must not misunderstand their rights—they must not suppose because this is called a free country that it is not, or was not a country of laws—of order and good government. Carrying Knives and Pistols is illegal, because it may lead to a breach of the peace. A man armed at all points with deadly weapons is more apt to get into broils and difficulties than he who is unarmed, for he feels confident of his own strength, and in a sudden ebullition of passion the dagger may be fatally used. They should be abolished by Statute : there is no necessity to carry them, and they are dangerous to the peace, the safety, and the character of the City.

Now this is wrong in a city constituted like ours, and the subject should occupy the attention of our public authorities, and above all convictions for stabbing should be followed by strong and severe punishments.—New York Evening Star.

It is strange that Intelligent Editors should live in the midst of scenes of immorality for years, comment upon them in every paper, and in all aspects, and yet should let their philosophy be perpetually on the surface. What harm in carrying knives by the gross, if there is no disposition to use them? Is it the habit of carrying private arms, or the habit of cherishing those feelings which make arms pernicious, that is to be censured? If Quakers should arm their whole sect, who would fear evil? And why? Quakers do not drink, don’t gamble, do not haunt theatres, nor horse races, nor sporting clubs.—Now if the good citizens of New York would let alone the knives and pistols and dirks and fall upon the evil morals of their vagrant population, if they would purge out their grog shops—maintain the influence of religion over the community, visit theatres less and church more, we should soon hear as little about the danger of carrying “knives,” as we did forty or fifty years ago. And their political papers, if they would cease to laud the theatre, to puff demoralizing scenes, would find less need of bewailing the consequences. As it is in the morning they bid god speed to strong causes of vice and immorality; and in the evening they bemoan their natural and inevitable results. This is double handed folly.

[excerpted from The Charleston Observer 10.41 (8 October 1836): 162, columns 3-4.]