A History Lesson, by Robert Strong

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. Continue reading “A History Lesson, by Robert Strong”

“Nothing Ever Changes”

First, I’d like to point you to a very interesting article by James W. Scott, managing editor of New Horizons, the denominational magazine of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. In this article, “Machen’s Lost Work on the Presbyterian Conflict,” Mr. Scott explores the possibility that J. Gresham Machen had been at work over the summer of 1936 writing a book on the Presbyterian conflict. Among Machen’s papers, the working notes and manuscript for that book were never found, and Mr. Scott builds his case for the theory that the work was removed from Machen’s estate after his decease by Edwin H. Rian and later used as the core of the book later published by Rian, titled The Presbyterian Conflict.

Westminster Theological Seminary has now published the first part of Mr. Scott’s article in the latest issue of The Westminster Theological Journal, and has graciously posted this article to the Seminary web site, here. I think you will enjoy reading the article.

In response to my reading the article, I’m putting in a few extra hours in the PCA Historical Center on Saturday, looking through the Allan A. MacRae Manuscript Collection, to see if there might be anything relevant to the Scott article. MacRae’s correspondence with Machen, with Everett DeVelde and with Edwin H. Rian yielded nothing. Now I’m looking through MacRae’s correspondence with his family. He was very attentive to his mother and wrote home virtually every day, often relating interesting bits of news about the Seminary and the Church.

Just now, I came across the following note, in a letter to his mother dated 8 November 1936, on the federal election for president. Looking back from our vantage point, what does this say about how the political landscape changes—or doesn’t?

rooseveltFD“What a landslide the election was! The people got what they wanted. But it is surely disgusting to think that this is what they wanted. On the whole it was undoubtedly a victory of the unintelligent and the shiftless over the intelligent and the industrious. Of course this does not mean that such a characteristic should be applied to every Roosevelt supporter. Far from it! But it was the great body of votes of this type that swayed the election. The Literary Digest poll showed clearly that the overwhelming majority of the intelligent classes were against him. After all, I suppose a slush fund of ten billion dollars is altogether too much to overcome by argument. Now that he has a blank check from the people, I wonder what he will do with it. He certainly was careful to keep his election speeches in the realm of vague generality, giving no idea at all of his actual intentions.”

Allan MacRae went on in his letter home to state :

Human nature is surely a queer thing. If only people could look to God more and put less faith in their own ideas. How our petty scheming and planning must appear ridiculous in His sight! Surely it is true that we can put our faith in no human being. He wants us more and more to feel our utter dependencies on Him alone.

Prayer in Times of Apostasy

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.

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.] Continue reading “Prayer in Times of Apostasy”

The Westminster Confession and the Amendments of 1903.

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.


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. Continue reading “The Westminster Confession and the Amendments of 1903.”

New Machen Book : Letters from the Front

Just received today our copy for the PCA Historical Center’s research library. Dr. Barry Waugh has compiled, transcribed and edited for publication J. Gresham Machen’s correspondence from the first World War. On first glance, this looks like a great read. No hagiography here, this collection of Machen’s correspondence offers readers an opportunity to see a previously unseen side of the man, his true haracter and the reality of his ministry in the trenches. Dr. Waugh has previously written an interesting article on another aspect of Machen’s life and ministry, “Mr. Machen’s Protege”, which appeared in The Westminster Theological Journal, 71.1 (Spring 2009): 21-51.

Letters from the Front : J. Gresham Machen’s Correspondence from World War I. 
Transcribed and edited by Barry Waugh.
Philipsburg, NJ : P&R Publishing, 2012.  xxvi, 342 p.; 23 cm.
ISBN : 978-1-59638-479-8

Table of Contents :
Foreword by Peter A. Lillback
Preface by Barry Waugh
Conventions Use in the Letter Transcriptions
1.  “Over There” [January 22 to February 10, 1918]
2.  At Le Foyer du Soldat, St. Mard [February 14 to March 2, 1918]
3.  Adjusting to the War, the “Y”, and Monsieur Pia [March 7 to 18, 1918]
4.  A New Assignment at Missy-sur-Aisne [March 23 to April 7, 1918]
5.  A River of Hot Chocolate Flowing at Missy-sur-Aisne [April 12 to May 6, 1918]
6.  War Is Declared on the Rats [May 14 to 26, 1918]
7.  The Germans Are Coming—Sudden Evacuation from Missy-sur-Aisne [May 29 to June 13, 1918]
8.  A “Hut” in the American YMCA [June 20 to July 16, 1918]
9.  The “Y Man of Pexonne” [July 22 to September 7, 1918]
10. Continuing “Y” Service in Several Locations [September 14 to November 6, 1918]
11. The War Is Over! [November 14 to December 5, 1918]
12. The “Religious Work” [December 17, 1918 to January 5, 1919]
13. A Review of Past Locations and More “Y” Work [January 5 to February 7, 1919]
14. Going Home! [February 12 to March 2, 1919]
15. Letters Written in French Received by J. Gresham Machen [June 5, 1918 to January 13, 1919]
Some Closing Thoughts
Glossary of People, Plays, Literature, and Other
Words of Interest
Index of Subjects and Names

Parting Regrets : Reflection on a Letter

In our previous post, we provided some background for an article currently posted at the OPC web site. The article was written by the Rev. Charles Dennision, who was at that time serving as the OPC historian.  The article is titled “Cornelius Van Til and the Identity of the OPC“. Our last post provided the text of the letter by J. Oliver Buswell, writing late in 1936 to Dr. J. Gresham Machen. Dennison also mentions a fragment of a letter, a working draft that Machen intended in reply to Buswell, but Machen died while on a speaking engagement in North Dakota and the reply was never finished. I presume that draft fragment is preserved among the papers of Dr. Machen, in the archives at the Westminster Theological Seminary.

What we do have is the other side of the conversation, found among the papers of Dr. Buswell, and in addition to the previously posted letter, there is another interesting letter that sheds further light on the situation, and which also contains an interesting admission by Dr. Buswell.   In both of these letters, I think there is much that can be gleaned as to how Christians can and ought to conduct themselves in debate and disagreement.

In this letter, Dr. Buswell is writing to the Rev. Harold Samuel Laird, a highly-regarded pastor in Wilmington, Delaware.


Rev. Harold S. Laird
R. D. #3
Wilmington, Delaware
My dear Dr. Laird,

I told you in conversation the other day of my conference with the West-

minster faculty Monday evening, January twenty-fifth.  I feel that you
as a trustee of Westminster and as one who has sacrificed so much for the
cause we all love, should be informed, and therefore I am writing down
certain conclusions which I think were reached.

(1)  The faculty stand by Professor Murray’s attitude towards alcoholic
liquor.  They defend him not only in theory but in his practice.  Pro-
fessor Murray drinks liquor and insists upon the principle of personal
liberty in doing so.  The faculty insist that he is right.  This none
of them will dispute, I am sure.

We did not exactly agree on definitions of terms in regards to the emphasis

Continue reading “Parting Regrets : Reflection on a Letter”

Parting Words : Buswell’s Last Letter to Machen

Over at the OPC web site, there has been the recent posting of a 1996 article by Charles Dennison, the late historian for the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.
The article is entitled “Cornelius Van Til and the Identity of the OPC”, and in the opening paragraph, Rev. Dennison made reference to the last letter that Dr. J. Oliver Buswell wrote to Dr. J. Gresham Machen.

I thought our readers might like to see that letter, for added context and background to the Dennison article. A second letter by Dr. Buswell—written late in January of 1937 and bearing a significant comment on this first letter—will follow in our next post.


Dr. J. Gresham Machen
206 South Thirteenth Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Dear Dr. Machen

Since reading the last issue of the Guardian, I have been confirmed
in feeling that I ought to write you with reference to certain
points which I have not had time to discuss with you adequately.
(1) The first of these is the method to be used in correcting
dispensational error.  You are a far more experienced and more
capable Christian leader than I, but I have had certain experiences
with devout people misguided by dispensationalism, which I think
you have not had.  I have found that such people will generally
listen to specific arguments with definite references but they are
not convinced, and I think could not be expected to be convinced,
by general phrases such as “the dispensationalism of the Scofield
Bible.”  Professor Murray’s article last May and Dr. Allis’ two
articles in recent issues of the Evangelical Quarterly were more
definitely characterized by careful handling of detail.  The last
issue of the Guardian contained a very effective appeal on page
seventy-one, column two-b, but it is all in the realm of generalities
and hence in the realm most likely to cause irritation rather than
to bring conviction.  This is especially true since the doctrine
of a literal millennium is seen to be a particular within the
general phrase which Dr. Kuiper used. Continue reading “Parting Words : Buswell’s Last Letter to Machen”

Three New Books on Princeton Seminary, Part 3

The last of these three new books published in commemoration of the 200h anniversary of the founding of the Princeton Theological Seminary is also edited by Dr. James M. Garretson. It is titled Past0r-Teachers of old Princeton. That title by itself might be a little misleading, but the subtitle spells out more clearly the book’s content : Memorial Addresses for the Faculty of Princeton Theological Seminary, 1812-1921. Obviously that 1921 date takes the content up through the death of Dr. Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield, and even the title evokes Machen’s comment on the death of Warfield, that “old Princeton had died.”
Where some the content found in the first two volumes might be found elsewhere, these funeral addresses and obituaries provide rich biographical reading that hasn’t been readily available until now. On a more minor note, Pastor-Teachers of old Princeton appears to have gone to the printer first, before the other two volumes, judging from dates found in the prefaces. That would then explain why this volume lacks the birth and death dates as a feature in the table of contents. The addition of those dates is a nice feature which must have been a subsequent improvement.  I’ve added those dates for your reference, below.

Contents :
“Mark the Perfect Man,” by Charles Hodge [an obituary upon the death of a Princeton student, age 22].
Introduction, by Dr. James M. Garretson
• “A Sermon on the Death of Dr. Archibald Alexander,” by the Rev. John Hall.
• “Archibald Alexander, D.D.,” Address by William M. Paxton.
• “The Life of Archibald Alexander,” A Review by Charles Hodge.
SAMUEL MILLER [1769-1850]
• “Funeral Sermon Occasioned by the Death of the Rev. Dr. Samuel Miller,” by Rev. Dr. Archibald Alexander.
• “A Discourse Commemorative of the Life of the Late Rev. Samuel Miller, D.D. of Princeton, N.J.,” by the Rev. H.A. Boardman.
• “Brief Biographical Notice of Dr. Miller.”
• “A Discourse Commemorative of the Rev. Samuel Miller, D.D., Late Professor in the Theological Seminary at Princeton,” by William B. Sprague.
• “The Life of Samuel Miller; A Review.”
• “He Preached Christ,” A Sermon by the Rev. Charles Hodge.
• “Remember These Things” A Sermon by the Rev. John Hall.
• “James Waddell Alexander” An Address by Theodore L. Cuyler.
• “Obsequies of Dr. J. Addison Alexander” by the Rev. John Hall.
• “Joseph Addison Alexander, D.D.” Address by William C. Cattell.
• “The Life of Joseph Addison Alexander, D.D.,” A Review.
CHARLES HODGE [1797-1878]
• “Address” by William M. Paxton.
• “A Tribute” by Charles A. Aiken.
• “Memorial Discourse” by Henry A. Boardman.
• “Minute Adopted by the Board of Directors.”
• “A Discourse Commemorative of the Late Dr. Charles Hodge” by Lyman A. Atwater.
• “The Life of Charles Hodge,” A Review by Francis L. Patton.
• “Funeral Address” by A. A. Hodge.
• “Commemorative Sermon” by John De Witt.
• “Address Delivered at the Funeral of Archibald Alexander Hodge” by William M. Paxton.
• “A Discourse in Memory of Archibald Alexander Hodge” by Francis L. Patton.
• “Address at the Funeral of Rev. Alexander Taggart M’Gill” by W. Henry Green.
• “In Memoriam”
• “A Memorial Address” by W. Henry Green.
• “Memorial Tablet to Dr. James C. Moffat, D.D.” by John De Witt.
• “A Memorial Address” by Francis L. Patton.
• “The Life and Work of William Henry Green: A Commemorative Address” by John D. Davies.
• “Discourse at the Funeral Service of William M. Paxton” by John De Witt.
• “A Memorial Discourse” by Benjamin B. Warfield.
• “Obituary,” Princeton Theological Review, April 1921.
• “A Memorial Address” by Francis L. Patton.
Index, pp. 553-565.

Three New Books on Princeton Seminary, Part 2

Volume 2 of the 2 volume set, Princeton and the Christian Ministry, selected and edited by Dr. James M. Garretson. Published by the Banner of Truth Trust, 2012, in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the Princeton Theological Seminary. The set is subtitled, A Collection of Addresses, Essays, and Articles by Faculty and Friends of Princeton Theological Seminary.

Contents :
ASHBEL GREEN [1762-1848]
• “Address to the Students.”
• “Christ Crucified the Characteristic of Apostolic Preaching.”
• “An Address to the Students.”
J. W. ALEXANDER [1804-1859]
• “The Lord Jesus Christ the Example of the Minister.”
• “Considerations on Foreign Missions Addressed to Candidates for the Holy Ministry.”
• “The History of Catechising.
WILLIAM S. PLUMER [1802-1880]
• “The Scripture Doctrine of a Call to the Work of the Gospel Ministry.”
CHARLES HODGE [1797-1878]
• “The Character Traits of the Gospel Minister.”
• “On the Necessity of a Knowledge of the Original Languages of the Scriptures.”
• “Review of Sprague’s Lectures to Young People.”
• “The Nature of the Atonement.”
• “The Teaching Office of the Church.”
• “Are There Too Many Ministers?”
• “What Is Presbyterianism?”
• “Preaching the Gospel to the Poor.”
• “A Discourse Delivered at the Re-opening of the Chapel.”
• “Faith in Christ the Source of Life.”
• “Christianity without Christ.”
• “The Ministry We Need.”
ALEXANDER T. M’GILL [1807-1889]
• “Practical Theology.”
WILLIAM M. PAXTON [1824-1904]
• “The Ministry for this Age.”
• “The Church, the Preacher, the Pastor—the Instruments of God’s Salvation.”
• “The Call to the Ministry.”
A. A. HODGE [1823-1886]
• “Dogmatic Christianity, the Essential Ground of Practical Christianity.”
B. B. WARFIELD [1851-1921]
• “Our Seminary Curriculum.”
• “The Purpose of the Seminary.”
• “The Religious Life of Theological Students.”
• “Spiritual Culture in the Theological Seminary.”
• “The Significance of the Westminster Standards as a Creed.”
• “The Idea of Systematic Theology Considered as a Science.”
• “The Indispensableness of Systematic Theology to the Preacher.”
• “The Christ that Paul Preached.”
• “Authority, Intellect, Heart.”
• “What is Calvinism?”
J. GRESHAM MACHEN [18881-1937]
• “Christianity and Culture.”
• “Liberalism or Christianity.”
GEERHARDUS VOS [1862-1949]
• “The More Excellent Ministry.”
• “The Charge.”
• “The Significance of the Reformed Theology Today.”

Princeton Seminary, Class of 1919

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