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”


A Note on Millennial Views in the Early Days at Westminster

Making some bibliographical entries from the Westminster Theological Journal today, and I came across this tucked in the very back of one issue. Many might have missed it, hidden behind the “reviews of books”:


[Editor’s Note: Vol. 53, no. 2 (Fall 1992) carried an article on J. Gresham Machen that included the following statement regarding the early faculty at Westminster Theological Seminary:

“Allan A. MacRae, professor of Old Testament, was a dispensationalist, while Paul Woolley, professor of church history, was a ‘historic premillennialist’ ” (p. 213, n. 9).

What follows is part of a communication from Dr. MacRae, dated January 21, 1992.]


This misrepresentation shocked me greatly. I am certain that it would not have been made by any of my colleagues of those days, all of whom, to my great sorrow, have already passed on. I was a member of the Westminster faculty for eight years but until I read this article I never heard anyone say, or even suggest, that there was any difference between Mr. Woolley’s beliefs and my own, either during that time or later . . .

Like Paul Woolley, I agree entirely with the teachings of the Westminster standards. One of those attending the Westminster Assembly said that many of its members, including some of the most honored, were “expressed chiliasts”. . .

I cannot think of any valid ground for anyone to call me a “dispensationalist.” It is disturbing to have an imaginary difference between Paul Woolley and me stated as if it were a fact. I knew Dr. Machen very intimately, and served as a colleague with him and with Paul Woolley for eight years, without ever having the feeling that there was any important difference between them and me. Paul and I were known to be premillennialists, but I never heard that either of us was criticized on that account. We worked together in great harmony. It was only after Dr. Machen’s death that circumstances developed which made me decide to resign from the Westminster faculty.

[excerpted from The Westminster Theological Journal, 54.2 (Fall 1992): 404.]

Woolley on Ministerial Training

I’m starting to read CONFIDENT OF BETTER THINGS, and the opening chapter concerns Paul Woolley, professor of church history at Westminster Seminary for some forty years. John Muether spends several pages in that article discussing Woolley as an author. In all his years at the institution, Woolley never wrote a full-length article for the WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL, thought he did author some ninety-five book reviews for the JOURNAL, and over fifty articles for the PRESBYTERIAN GUARDIAN. A few of his articles landed in unusual places. An overview of American Presbyterian history was serialized in the REFORMED PRESBYTERIAN ADVOCATE. And I’ve just come across another article, this one on ministerial training, that appeared in a small publication edited by William Stanford Reid in the early 1950’s. The PCA Historical Center was blessed a few years ago to receive the donation of a nearly complete run of Reid’s magazine REFORMATION TODAY, and this article by Woolley is drawn from that publication.
[If you don’t know of Stanford Reid, I strongly encourage you to locate and read a copy of A. Donald MacLeod’s biography, W. STANFORD REID: AN EVANGELICAL CALVINIST IN THE ACADEMY.


by Paul Woolley
[Reformation Today (Montreal, Quebec) 1.10 (July-August 1952): 3-5]

When Bill Smith first goes to kindergarten, his father and mother take the existing school as they find it. But it interests them, and they think about what is happening to Bill there. As a result, education becomes a very lively topic. Both in Canada and the United States the relation of state support of schools to religious instruction is constantly being discussed. If it is not the policy of the government of Ontario, it is the speech on the subject of President Conant of Harvard that is the subject for comment.

The principles which should guide education at the university level, undergraduate and graduate, have not been as widely considered as those concerned with Bill Smith’s kindergarten. But these principles, too, especially as they affect theological education, are of particular importance to Christians and the Church.

His Arts course
The theological student studies the liberal arts before he turns his attention specifically to theology. This is to acquaint him with the world in which he lives so that he may learn how to think and have materials, facts, with which to think. There is no use in trying to apply theology to an unknown world and to unintelligible people.

In order to be effective the arts course must consider the world and the points of view in it as broadly and as understanding^ as possible. One can never learn anything about communism and how to oppose it, for example, if one never sees the positive things which it has accomplished and by means of which it attracts people to support it. At the same time, there has to be a standard of judgment. For the Christian that basic standard ought to be the Bible.

Question of right and wrong
The greater knowledge of the Bible the arts student has, the greater wisdom he will show in thinking about the world in general. He needs to know as much about the Bible as possible when he enters the university and he ought to be constantly using the Bible as a touchstone. In the liberal arts course, however, the student will find that many of his studies concern subjects about which there is not an absolute right or wrong for all times and all places. To talk technically for a moment, they belong to the realm of the adiaphora. For example, no one form of government is always best everywhere on earth.

In Canada and the United States democracy is best, but it would be foolish to introduce full democracy overnight into Afghanistan. It requires preparation. So if the Canadian student became Emir of Afghanistan next Monday, he would not be sinning if he failed to introduce full democracy on Tuesday morning. If, however, he became Premier of the government of Canada on Monday and tried to introduce the governmental methods of Afghanistan on Tuesday, he would be sinning for the short period that the attempt would last.

Bible and theological training
As soon as the liberal arts student has finished that course and begins to study theology, he faces quite a different situation. Now he is studying the Bible itself or, at least, he should be. For the study of protestant theology should always be basically the study of the Bible. When one studies the Bible, one is always studying something about which there is a basic right and a basic wrong. The Bible is God’s Word and one understands it aright or else fails to understand it. Continue reading “Woolley on Ministerial Training”

Back When School Was For Real

An old cartoon that I remember had the dad saying to his son, “In my day, we weren’t teleported to school; we had to ride in a rickety old bus!”

From among the Papers of Dr. J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., here is a page describing two exams at Faith Theological Seminary in 1954, plus, for added comparison, a church history exam from Westminster Seminary, dated 1972:

January, 1954


Time limit : two periods
Use no books, notes or helps

I. (about one third of your time)
Sketch a Christian system of Ontology and Epistemology.

II. (about two thirds of your time)
Discuss at least four (4) systems of apologetics (including something about Thomas) which we have studied this semester.

Time limit : 2-1/2 hours.
Use Bibles, Greek and Hebrew, but no other books, notes or helps.

I. List the chief topics discussed this semester.

II. Discuss in some detail at least three fourths of these topics.

The next semester, the exams were a bit more descriptive in content:


Time limit – 2 periods
Use Bibles, (Greek, Hebrew, English) but no other notes or helps. Answer all four questions. Divide your time according to your idea of relative importance.

I. Discuss the Decrees of God.
Bring out the relation of the decrees to the problems of evil, free will, the glory of God, etc.

II. Discuss the Doctrine of Creation.
Bring out related problems of metaphysics, etc.

III. Discuss the Nature of Man as Originally Created.

IV. Discuss Sin, – Original Sin, Particular Sins, Sin in Human Nature, Sin of Unbelief, etc.

Time limit – two periods. No books, notes or helps.

I. Discuss “the defense and confirmation of the gospel” or “a reason for the hope” showing what you have gained as an apologete and what kind of ammunition you can use in “contending for the faith.”

II. List as many of the students’ problem topics as you can remember and discuss two or three.

III. State briefly the main point of your own problem topic.

To be written in your own time with all library aids and handed in before the end of examination week.

Give your own important gleanings in the four great fields of syntax, cases, prepositions, tenses, moods.

Or to move into more recent decades, here’s the final exam for Reformation history at Westminster Seminary, December 1972: Continue reading “Back When School Was For Real”

Preparation for Ministry (1948)

Recently in processing the Papers of Dr. Morton H. Smith, the first Stated Clerk of the PCA, I came across this letter written to Smith when he was just twenty-five years of age and considering a call to ministry and pondering which Seminary to attend.  The pastor of his home church, the Rev. James E. Moore, wrote to offer the following advice.  Moore and his brother Lardner (whose sermon we posted recently) were raised in Osaka, Japan. James  prepared for the ministry at Westminster  Seminary, graduating in 1933 and was pastor of the Mt. Washington Presbyterian church in Baltimore, Maryland from 1934-1951.  He was received into the PCA in 1974.
This letter continues to offer, I think, some sage advice to those considering a call to ministry. The letter also offers a bit of historical insight on the situation as it stood then for theologically conservative Presbyterians, and in that light, it is interesting and even encouraging to compare that situation with where we are today.


22 September, 1948

Dear Morton:

Rockwell told me on his return from the West that you had about decided to go to the Seminary but were undecided as to which one. I’m not sure of the reasons he gave but I did ask him for your address. I have been thinking about the Seminary and what is involved in a Seminary education. I hope you won’t think me presumptuous but I wouldn’t miss the opportunity of expressing my views on the matter. I hope the Lord will take my words and give you help so that you can know without any doubt whatsoever His will may be in your whole future.

The first thing that I would say is that you don’t have to go to the Seminary to preach the Gospel. It is not a necessity because the New Testament doesn’t say one word about it. There was no such school in the days of the Apostles and they didn’t take the time to start one. More, the law of our church does not presuppose a Seminary education. The requirements for ordination are given. Then it says that certain of these parts may be omitted if the candidate is a graduate of a seminary.

If then neither the New Testament nor our church requires a Seminary education, why bother to go to one? The answer should be given along these lines. See how far you can agree with me. First, the Gospel, the only Gospel, which we have to preach is found exclusively in the New Testament, that is, the Bible. God’s message of salvation for a lost world is not found in nature nor in conscience nor in the church. The Bible is the only source of information and instruction. We don’t deny the value of philosophical and scientific truth anywhere, but those truths, regardless of how valuable they may be, do not shed any light on the Gospel. The story of Jesus and His love is found only in the Bible. That will be the first part of our answer. We go to the Seminary to better study the Bible.

Second, we go to the Seminary to study all the Bible. If the Bible is the exclusive source of the Gospel, then we dare not neglect the Bible, lest somewhere it teach something that would have a tremendous bearing on the Gospel. The world can’t be impressed by ill-equipped men who don’t know what they are talking about. The world is educated to-day so that anyone who takes the time to study can know a tremendous lot about the Bible. Therefore a preacher must be equipped so that he knows enough of and from the Bible to be able to declare the “whole counsel of God.” You will appreciate this point of view. You weren’t brought up on the idea that five or six truths were adequate for your life. The Shorter Catechism covers the whole range of Scripture truth. Now it stands to reason that a man studying under those who are competent and experienced can learn more of the Bible than he can by trying to do it himself. Continue reading “Preparation for Ministry (1948)”

A Westminster Social Gathering

It’s an old joke, but one of the real pleasures of the archivist’s job is reading other people’s mail.  Here transcribed is a letter that Allan A. MacRae, one of Westminster’s founding faculty, wrote to his parents in 1933.  It tells mainly of a social gathering of the early Westminster Seminary faculty and their friends and on that level alone, it is a wonderful glimpse into the lives of some dear saints. We see here bits of both their humanity and their love of the Lord.
But the letter also serves as an object lesson that each of us should take to heart, as it displays the value of preserving something of the story of how the Lord has been at work in our own lives, even noting perhaps something of the otherwise small and insignificant moments, for the reality of Christ in our lives shines there too. 

Allan A. MacRae writing to his parents,

Philadelphia, Pa., Oct.22, 1933.

Dear Folks,

Another week has passed by, and how it has flown. It was quite a busy week. There was the regular school work, there were the first classes of the year in the University and there were two special things. These latter were the tea at the Allises last Wednesday afternoon and the party at the Wallaces on Friday evening. Both these events were particularly pleasant. The Allises gave a tea in honor of the Kuipers. They invited over a hundred people. They asked me, and the others of our faculty to stay most of the time from four to six to help entertain the visitors. It was a very friendly reception. Everyone was so cordial and harmonious. Most of those who came knew most of the others.

On Friday evening the Misses Wallace, two maiden ladies who have been friends of the Seminary and have been present at most of our functions right from the start, entertained the faculty of the Seminary at their apartment in one of the suburbs. They asked Dr.Machen to speak on mountain climbing. He gave a very interesting talk indeed. Then Jimmie Blackstone, who was also invited, sang several numbers for us, and one of the Misses Wallace read some poems she had written. Dr.Kuiper was asked for a few remarks. After that we had a spelling bee. Most of those on the side on which I happened to be chosen were spelled down rather soon, and for a long time I was the lone survivor on our side, while the opposing team still had three standing. These three were Dr. Machen, Paul Woolley and John Murray. Then I put one ‘m’ too few in the word persimmon, and left the three of them alone. So their side was victorious in the contest. After that ice cream was served. When we all came to leave, some one happened to look at a watch, and we could hardly believe it was actually past midnight, the evening had been so pleasant. The only people invited who were not members of our faculty, beside Mr. and Mrs. Blackstone, were Mr. and Mrs.Freeman, whom I mentioned to you recently. They took John Murray and me with them in their car, which was pleasant and also a great convenience for us. Continue reading “A Westminster Social Gathering”

First Commencement: Westminster Seminary

Protestantism’s Tomorrow
By Clarence Edward Macartney, D.D.
Christianity Today 1.1 (May 1930): 8-10.]

[Below appears the complete text of the address delivered at the First commencement of Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, in Witherspoon Hall, on the evening of May sixth. Dr. Macartney is an ex-Moderator of the General Assembly, Minister of the First Presbyterian Church, Pittsburgh, and member of the Seminary’s Board of Trustees.  An account of the commencement exercises is recorded here.]

WERE I to consult my own preference, I should avail myself of this opportunity to speak some words of counsel, warning, and encouragement to the young men who are going out from this Seminary to preach the Gospel. But I am aware, as you are, that this is no ordinary occasion, and that the exercises of this evening have back of them a deeper significance than the sending out of these young men into the work of the ministry. Tonight we fling out to every wind that blows a new banner, to be displayed not because of any new discovery, or any new faith, but because of the Everlasting Gospel. With this commencement, and the going out of these young men into the ministry, the real history of Westminster Seminary begins.

One hundred and fifty-four years ago, the Continental Congress, assembled in the old State House on Chestnut Street, declared to the world the independence of the United States. It was fitting that the Declaration should commence with the now familiar words: “When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitles them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to separation.”

A decent respect to the opinions of Presbyterians, and evangelical Christians in the United States and throughout the world, requires that we should declare the causes which impelled us to separate from Princeton Theological Seminary. A statement of these causes must, of necessity, embrace a brief survey of the present condition of the Protestant Church. On an August day one summer, I was sitting on a bench in the park at Geneva. In front of me, and built against the ancient ramparts of the city, rose the great stone wall of the International Monument of the Reformation. In the center, cut out of the rock, stood the figures of the four Reformers who had to do with Geneva — Calvin, Farell, Beza, and Knox. Along the wall to the left stood the great Elector Frederick, William the Silent, and Admiral Coligny. On the right, Roger Williams and Cromwell. between the different figures, were sculptured scenes representing memorable incidents of Reformation and post-Reformation times : Henry the IV, signing the Edict of Nantes; John Knox, preaching before Mary Stuart; the Elector Frederick receiving the French refugees, and the signing of the compact in the cabin of the Mayflower. Over all, cut in great letters was the familiar motto of the Reformation, “Post Tenebras Lux.” Continue reading “First Commencement: Westminster Seminary”

First Commencement of Westminster Seminary

Shortly we will turn to other matters, but just now, here is yet another item regarding Westminster Seminary–this from 1930 and a report on the school’s first commencement:

First Commencement of Westminster Seminary

Before a great throng which began gathering long before the doors were thrown open, Westminster Theological Seminary held its first commencement exercises in Witherspoon Hall, Philadelphia, on the evening of Tuesday, May sixth. Continue reading “First Commencement of Westminster Seminary”

WTS Commencement Address, 1936

It seems timely to post something in the way of a commencement address.  So here is Dr. A.B. Dodd’s address before the graduating class of Westminster Theological Seminary in May of 1936.  The Christian Beacon reported on the event:
“With the largest audience ever attending a Westminster Seminary graduation the 7th commencement was held in Witherspoon Hall, Philadelphia, Pa., May 12, at 8 P.M.  The expectant and enthusiastic crowd began to gather long before the hour for the service, and it was apparent that visitors had come from several states for the occasion.
“The Rev. A.B. Dodd, missionary in China for 32 years under the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., but now serving under the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions, delivered the address on “Be Strong.” . . . Dr. Dodd summoned the young ministers to the battle for the faith and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.  In bold contrast to the constant charges made by those in sympathy with the ecclesiastical leaders in the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., that the movement represented by Westminster is “bitter,” Dr. Dodd appealed in tenderness for the students to be in prayer for their enemies, and to love those who would despitefully use them.  One was impressed by the simplicity and sincerity in the call to “be strong” in the Lord. Continue reading “WTS Commencement Address, 1936”