Difficulty in Dr. Plumer’s Church

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]

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 :


Samuel Miller on 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.]



“Dr. Lingle and The Auburn Affirmation” by Rev. Daniel S. Gage (1944)


By Rev. Daniel S. Gage, D. D.

[Excerpted from THE CHRISTIAN OBSERVER, 29 November 1944]

The discussion of the Auburn Affirmation by Dr. Walter L. Lingle in the Christian Observer of October 11, in the opinion of this writer leaves much to be desired. Dr. Lingle says that it is a liberal document, but nothing in his discussion would so indicate. If it was issued solely to protest against an unconstitutional action of the Assembly, and if all the signers believed all the doctrines of the standards, including those included in the action of the Assembly, what could there have been in the document of a liberal nature? But it seems to this writer that Dr. Lingle has missed both the intent and the main content of the affirmation. We will let the document speak for itself.

To refresh our minds as to the circumstances: The U. S. A. Church being disturbed because some Presbyteries were ordaining men who did not accept certain doctrines of the standards, e.g., the virgin birth, the inerrancy of Scripture, the resurrection, and in response to various overtures, their Assembly three times declared that the following doctrines were essential elements of the faith: The inerrancy of the Scriptures, the virgin birth, the vicarious atonement in the sense thatit was to satisfy divine justice, that Christ worked genuine miracles, and His bodily resurrection. The last time this was done was in 1923.

In opposition to this action, there was issued the document known as the Auburn Affirmation. The intent of the document is stated in its opening words: “We feel bound in view of certain actions of the Assembly of 1923 and of persistent attempts to divide the unity of the Church and abridge its freedom, to express our convictions in matters pertaining thereto.” “Forthe maintenance of the faith of our Church, the preservation of its unity, and the protection of the liberties of its ministers and people, we offer this affirmation.” That the “unity” was not doctrinal will at once appear, but “purely organizational; that the freedom and liberties were the freedom to preach teachings contrary to the doctrines named in the action of the Assembly will also appear. While not stated in the affirmation, the Conservative and Liberal groups were reaching a point where division of the Church seemed threatened. Continue reading ““Dr. Lingle and The Auburn Affirmation” by Rev. Daniel S. Gage (1944)”

“The Effect of the Auburn Affirmation,” by Wm. Childs Robinson [1944]

Another in our continuing series, the following article is one of two penned by Dr. William Childs Robinson.  The context was the proposed merger between the PCUSA and the PCUS [aka, Southern Presbyterian Church].  Dr. “Robbie” wrote here in direct response to an editorial in
For more on the Auburn Affirmation, including both the text of that document, links to other conservative Presbyterian responses and a short bibliography, click here.


By the Rev. Wm. Childs Robinson, D.D.
[excerpted from The Christian Observer 132.44 (1 November 1944): 6.]

In the October 11 issue of The Christian Observer, Dr. Walter L. Lingle makes a mild case for the Auburn Affirmation based in part upon a letter in which Dr. Henry Sloan Coffin asserts that the contention of the affirmation was constitutional and not doctrinal. As our Church faces the question of union with the U.S.A. Church, our concern, however, is not with what may have been the intention of the affirmationists. It is rather with the effect that the Auburn Affirmation has had upon the U.S.A. Church and will have upon our Church if we unite without an adequate safeguard against the liberal theology which the affirmation protects.

Since Dr. Lingle goes back to the period of 1923-1928 for his argument, I shall go back to the same period for my answer. In that period Dr. Coffin, the leader of the liberal majority in New York Presbytery, used the Auburn Affirmation to protect the licensure and ordination of his students who did not accept the virgin birth of Christ. In due process these cases came before the Synod and the Assembly. The U.S.A. Assembly of 1925 condemned New York Presbytery for licensing two students who were unable to affirm their belief in the positive, definite statements of the Gospels on the virgin birth. That Assembly remanded the case to New York Presbytery for appropriate action.

Speaking for the liberal majority of New York Presbytery, Dr. Coffin took the floor and declared the action of the Assembly null and void. Other Auburn Affirmationists threatened to split the Church if the action against New York Presbytery were consummated. In the face of this Auburn Affirmation declaration of nullification and threat of secession, the moderator appointed a committee which so compromised the matter that nothing was ever done by the U.S.A. Assembly against either the Presbytery or the students. By this action and by continued pressure at the ensuing Assemblies, the Auburn Affirmationists prevented the General Assembly from requiring candidates to accept the virgin birth of Christ. Continue reading ““The Effect of the Auburn Affirmation,” by Wm. Childs Robinson [1944]”