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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.]

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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]