The Creed of Presbyterians

Egbert Watson Smith (1862-1944) was a distinguished graduate of Davidson College (1882) and Union Theological Seminary (Richmond, Virginia, 1886), who went on serve as pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Greensboro, North Carolina, and the Second Presbyterian Church of Louisville, Kentucky, was also noted for his love for foreign missions. In 1911, he became executive secretary of Foreign Missions for the Presbyterian Church in the United States, in Nashville, Tennessee, where he labored and authored works in support of missions and missionaries around the world. Even after he retired from that position in 1932, he took on the newly created position of field secretary of foreign missions. He served as one of the most active and able advocates of missionary activities in the American Presbyterian church. 

As a confessional Presbyterian, he also wrote in defense of the Westminster Standards, the creedal position of the Presbyterian Church. His 1901 volume on The Creed of Presbyterians is remarkable because it makes the point that the Westminster Confession of Faith, and Larger and Shorter Catechisms, are simply put, a summary of essential truths that evangelical, Protestant Christians agree are taught from Scripture. They are not uniquely Presbyterian in a sectarian sense, but Catholic in nature. They affirm the principle of one true Church, in all its branches, to be the body and kingdom of Christ on earth. Smith has written this work for laymen, and it serves as a good introduction to what Protestants believe concerning the sovereignty of God, the authority of Scripture, and the value of having a summary of these things to unite believers in the truth, all of which serve as a great motivation for the spread of the gospel. 

This is a book that 21st century Christians will appreciate, as the depth and breadth of the author's humility and charity shine through as an example of how confessional Presbyterians may serve the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ with those two particular attributes, which is as much needed today as it was over a century ago. Take time to download and peruse The Creed of Presbyterians, which is a wonderful contribution to the whole church of Jesus Christ. 

How Can We Glorify God at All Times?

James Harper (1823-1913), in his Exposition in the Form of Question and Answer of the Westminster Assembly's Shorter Catechism (1905), regarding the first question and answer of the Shorter Catechism concerning man's chief end, asks the follow-up question, one that has perhaps arisen in the minds of many sincere Christians: 

"Q. 24. In order to glorify God must we be always definitely thinking of Him? 

No. But the habit of our minds must be to turn with reverence and pleasure to God. As the needle to the pole, our hearts must be attracted to Him. I Cor. 10:31.*

He goes on to say this: 

"Some worthy people have been perplexed about the direction given in i Cor. 10:31: 'Whether, therefore, ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.' Supposing this to mean that in all our acts we must have conscious reference to God, they have felt that either the precept is unreasonable, or that they must be destitute of true spirituality.

Touching this difficulty it may suffice to remark:

1. That the injunction in question requires that we have the thought of God consciously very often present in our minds;

2. That, therefore, the habitual attitude of our minds should be toward God;

3. That yet we are not required to be incessantly thinking about God. Our mental constitution forbids this. But a subconscious reference to God is possible and obligatory. A man may be controlled in his conduct by some desire even when the object of desire may be for a time forgotten. For instance, one starts upon a journey to a certain place, and every step he takes is controlled by the desire to reach that place ; and yet his mind meanwhile may be directly occupied with a thousand incidents and scenes which present themselves in the way."

B.B. Warfield and the Revision of 1903

The American edition of the Westminster Confession of Faith was revised in 1903. It was a time of great controversy, and there were those who were opposed to the suggested changes. One of them was B.B. Warfield. We have recently compiled his writings on the subject, written before and after the revisions were approved, which includes literature from others on both sides of the question. 

Warfield, whose "trilogy" on the Westminster Standards we have previously highlighted, began writing about the proposals to amend the Confession as early as 1889. The following is a list of his works on this particular topic: 

  • "The Presbyterian Churches and the Westminster Confession" (The Presbyterian Review, October 1889);
  • On the Revision of the Confession of Faith (1890);
  • Ought the Confession of Faith to be Revised? (1890, edited by Warfield, including contributions by John DeWitt, Henry J. Van Dyke, Jr., and W.G.T. Shedd);
  • Proposed Reply to "The Final Report of the Committee on the Revision of the Confession" (The Presbyterian and Reformed Review, 1892); and
  • The Confession of Faith as Revised in 1903 (1904). 

What were the revisions that were adopted in 1903 by the Presbyterian Church (USA)? Two new chapters were added - "Of the Holy Spirit" and "Of the Love of God, and Missions" - as well as a "Declaratory Statement" dealing with God's eternal decree of election and the question of those who die in infancy. Additionally, a sentence was deleted in section 2 of chapter 22 ("Of Lawful Oaths and Vows"); and chapter 25:6 (on "The Church") was revised to remove the assertion that the Pope is Antichrist. When the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) separated from the PCUSA and created its own edition of the Westminster Standards in 1936 (which was later adopted by the Presbyterian Church in American (PCA)), the two new chapters and declaratory statement were removed, but the latter two changes were retained. 

Donald John Maclean writes in James Durham (1622–1658): And the Gospel Offer in its Seventeenth-Century Context (2015) that "Although an opponent of confessional revision, B.B. Warfield, long-time professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, regarded the changes in a surprisingly positive light. In the end, he believed that the changes finally adopted in no way altered the system of doctrine contained in the Westminster Standards. Thus, he was able to give them his support" (p. 273). J.G. Machen, writing in 1936, was not as favorable, describing the 1903 revisions as "compromising amendments," "highly objectionable," a "calamity," and "a very serious lowering of the flag" (Presbyterian Guardian, Nov. 28, 1936, pp. 69-70).

For a recent discussion of the two chapters that were added to the Confession in 1903, see J.V. Fesko, The Spirit of the Age: The 19th-Century Debate Over the Holy Spirit and the Westminster Confession (2017). It is fascinating, nevertheless, to review Warfield's body of literature on the 1903 revisions both before and after they took place. In doing so, this great expert on the Westminster Standards reveals both his confessional fortitude and his willingness to bend for the sake of peace in the church, though not, as he viewed it, at the expense of the truth. 

Moses Drury Hoge on the Relation of the Westminster Standards to Foreign Missions

 On the Log College Press Compilations page, you will find the Memorial Volume of the Westminster Assembly, 1647-1897, a wonderful collection of essays about the formation and theology of the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms. One of the important articles in that book was written by Moses Drury Hoge, pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church in Richmond, Virginia, entitled "Relation of the Westminster Standards to Foreign Missions." Hoge examines some of the historical reasons why the churches who adopted the Standards were not as possessed of a missionary spirit as they ought to have been; the missionary vision of the Standards; and the ministries of Alexander Duff, missionary to India, and John Leighton Wilson, missionary to western Africa. All who love to see the gospel go forth will be encouraged by Hoge's reflection.

Here's an important slice from Hoge on how the Westminster Standards ground missions in the biblical doctrine of the church: "The true theory of missions is one that clearly recognizes the fact that the great head of the church has not only committed to it the truths necessary to salvation, but has provided it with the government, the laws, the offices, and the equipment for building up the kingdom of God and extending its conquests through the world. This is in accordance with the spirit and teaching of the Westminster Standards, in proof of which we need only quote their noble testimony: "Unto this catholic, visible church Christ has given the ministry, the oracles and ordinances of God for the gathering and perfecting of the saints in this life and to the end of the world; and this he doth by his own presence and Spirit, according to his promise, made effectual thereto." Thus are the scattered sheep ''gathered" from the North and the South, the East and the West, into the safe and happy fold of the Good Shepherd. By its divine constitution the church is, therefore, qualified to secure all the spiritual ends for which it was instituted, and is in itself a missionary society of which every communicant is a member; and as each one has a recognized place in it because of its representative form of government, this very fact is calculated to enlist the sympathies, to deepen the sense of responsibility, and to stimulate to the most earnest, practical activity on the part of every member of the great household of faith."

May those who live under the teaching of the Westminster Standards be impelled more and more to bring the gospel to the nations!

The Westminster Standards at Log College Press

Presbyterianism is historically a confessional tradition. Samuel Miller has ably elaborated on The Importance and Utility of Creeds and Confessions. For Presbyterians, that creed and confession is summarized in the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms, and related formularies. 

American Presbyterians have written extensively on the Westminster Standards, and Log College Press has assembled many of these resources. We invite you to bookmark this page for further study. There are books here for children and parents (Jonathan Cross' Illustrations of the Shorter Catechism; Joseph Engles' Catechism for Young Children; James Robert Boyd's The Child's Book on the Westminster Shorter Catechism); there are books on the background and legacy of the Westminster Assembly (including B.B. Warfield's "trilogy" on the making and printing of the Westminster Standards, and the work of the Westminster Assembly); and there are expositions of the Confession and Catechism, including volumes by Francis Robert Beattie and Edward Dafydd Morris on the major Standards together. We hope to add further works to page in the future. 

This is rich material for prayerful study and meditation. May this page be a blessing to students of God's Word. 

More Westminster Commentaries to Add to Your Digital Bookshelf

Log College Press has recently added several expositions of the Westminster Standards which you may wish to download for further study. 

Robert Annan (1742-1819) wrote an Exposition and Defense of the Westminster Assembly's Confession of Faith in 1787, which was republished with notes by David McDill (1790-1870)

John McDowell (1780-1863) published in two volumes a series of sermons on the Westminster Shorter Catechism. 

Edwin Hall, Sr. (1802-1877) published The Shorter Catechism of the Westminster Assembly, With Analysis and Scripture Proofs

Our database of resources on the Westminster Standards continues to grow. Please check back with us for more such confessional studies from early American Presbyterians. 

The Word of God its Own Witness

The Westminster Confession of Faith teaches that "We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture. And the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is, to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man's salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it does abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God: yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts" (WCF 1:5). 

William Swan Plumer writes that "If the Bible is not the word of God, it is certain that man has no revelation from heaven...None will deny that the Bible claims to be the word of God...All these things are found in a volume, which reserves its heaviest woes and maledictions for false prophets and false teachers, who corrupt God's word, add to it, or take from it. So that if the prophets, evangelists and apostles were not divinely inspired to write the various books of the Bible, they were, by their own showing, among the worst men that ever lived, and deserving of the sorest plagues reserved for atrocious sinners." (Earnest Hours, pp. 25-26)

David MacDill (1826-1903) has written a full and very helpful volume titled The Bible a Miracle; or, The Word of God its Own Witness (1872). If you are seeking a book about the divinely-inspired Book of books is indeed what it claims to be, be sure to download this work for further study. 

Two Books on the First Two Questions and Answers of the Westminster Shorter Catechism

John Hall (1806-1894), who edited the Letters of J.W. Alexander, is the author of book-length (100+ pages each) expositions of the first two questions and answers of the Westminster Shorter Catechism: The Chief End of Man: An Exposition of the First Answer of the Shorter Catechism (1841), and The Scriptures the Only Rule of Faith: An Exposition of the Second Answer of the Shorter Catechism (1844). To help us understand, from the Scriptures, what is our purpose in life, and what is the rule of our faith and practice, is the aim of these first portions of our Catechism, and Hall expounds these questions and answers in-depth. These volumes are intended for young as well as old, and they are an encouragement to all who read them with the heart of a child. Both of these works have been reprinted by Solid Ground Christian Books, the former with an essay on the Shorter Catechism by B.B. Warfield. They are spiritual gems, and worth downloading for prayerful study and application. 

Westminster Shorter Catechism for Today's Youth

When the Westminster Shorter Catechism was written in 1646-1648, it was designed, according to the Church of Scotland which adopted it, "to be a directory for catechising such as are of weaker capacity," in contrast the the Westminster Larger Catechism, which was, according to the same, designed to be a "a directory for those who have made some proficiency in the knowledge of the grounds of religion." 

Yet, in the 19th century -- not to mention the 21st -- some catechizers found it useful to revise the Shorter Catechism for the benefit of young persons. First, is Joseph Patterson Engles (1793-1861), a ruling elder at the Scots Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, and publishing agent for the Presbyterian Board of Publication. He designed a version of the Shorter Catechism titled Catechism for Young Children: Being an Introduction to the Shorter Catechism (1840). This work has been widely republished in modern times (and a very helpful study guide was produced about it by Jeff Kingswood, From the Lips of Little Ones: A Study in the in the Catechism for Very Little People, 2008), but it is believed that the PDF which appears on Log College Press (courtesy of Wayne Sparkman at the PCA Historical Center) is the only such scanned copy of the original work available on the internet today. The introduction is a precious word of encouragement to parents and teachers: "Emulate the spirit of the pious mother who, when asked by a witness of her patience and successful perseverance in the instruction of one of her children, 'How could you repeat that sentence to the child twenty times?' answered, 'If I had repeated it only nineteen times I should have lost my labor.'" The beginning of Engles' Catechism is also beloved by many: 

Q. 1. Who made you?
A. God.
Q. 2. What else did God make?
A. God made all things.
Q. 3. Why did God make you and all things?
A. For his own glory.
Q. 4. How can you glorify God?
A. By loving him and doing what he commands.

Second, James Robert Boyd (1804-1890), a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, pastor, educator, author of text-books, and other works, including an exposition of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. He also wrote The Child's Book on the Westminster Shorter Catechism (1855, since republished as A Child's Guide to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, 2015). Boyd designed this work for children 12 and under, and recommends that study and memorization of this version of the catechism be undertaken for an half hour each Sabbath afternoon. 

For parents who might feel that their young ones are not quite ready for the Westminster Shorter Catechism, these 19th century Presbyterian abbreviated versions may provide a suitable alternative, and while they are available in modern reprints, the introductions particularly to both works are not always included, and they are worth downloading for thoughtful consideration.

Addresses at the PCUS' Celebration of the 250th Anniversary of the Westminster Assembly

In May 1897, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States (the Southern Presbyterian Church) heard eleven addresses in commemoration of the 250th anniversary of the Westminster Assembly and its published standards. This volume, entitled Memorial Volume of the Westminster Assembly (1897), is mostly forgotten today - yet it is chock full of rich essays on the confessional standards of our tradition. Here is the table of contents:

1. The Political History of the Time, by Henry Alexander White
2. The Religious Situation of the time, by Robert Price
3. The Westminster Assembly Itself, by T. Dwight Witherspoon
4. The Doctrinal Contents of the Confession, by Robert L. Dabney
5. The Catechisms, by Givens B. Strickler
6. The Polity and Worship of the Standards, by Eugene Daniel
7. The Relation of the Standards to Other Creeds, by James D. Tadlock
8. The Standards and Missionary Activity, by Moses Drury Hoge
9. The Standards in Relation to Current Theology, by Samuel M. Smith
10. The Standards in Relation to Family and Social Life, by John F. Cannon
11. The Standards and Civil Government, by William M. Cox

If you appreciate the Westminster Standards, you will enjoy this book. 

Archibald Alexander Hodge on the Westminster Shorter Catechism

If you are teaching through the Westminster Shorter Catechism, make sure to check out this commentary by A. A. Hodge and J. Aspinwall Hodge - The System of Theology Contained in the Westminster Shorter Catechism: Opened and Explained (1888). A. A. Hodge had written the first part of the book, and upon his death J. Aspinwall Hodge (his cousin) finished it. This relatively unknown volume is a great companion to Hodge's Commentary on the Westminster Confession.

Here's a commentary on the Westminster Standards you probably haven't heard of...

In 1900, Edward Dafydd Morris (yes, that middle name is spelled correctly) published a commentary on the Westminster Confession and Catechism, entitled Theology of the Westminster Symbols. Like Francis Beattie's commentary, Morris expounds the teaching not only of the Confession of Faith but also the Shorter and Larger Catechism. In addition, however, he incorporates the teaching of the Westminster Form of Government and Directory for Worship, as well as the Sum of Saving Knowledge. That fact alone makes this a fascinating find. 

Morris was a professor at Lane Theological Seminary from 1867 until the end of the 19th century. As a student at Auburn Theological Seminary, he was influenced by New School men. I haven't read through his commentary yet, but it will be interesting to see if his take on the Westminster Standards is affected by a New School theology.

Looking for information on the Westminster Assembly? Don't miss B. B. Warfield's "trilogy"

Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield was a voluminous author, and we've only just begun to post his works to the Log College Press website. Three of his works on the Westminster Assembly have already been posted: "The Making of the Westminster Confession, and Especially Its Chapter on the Decree of God," "The Printing of the Westminster Confession," and "The Westminster Assembly and Its Work." All three were originally journal articles. If you have an interest in the Westminster Standards, and/or the history of their composition, you can find these articles here.

Even in 1864, parents thought catechizing was dry and difficult - so Jonathan Cross wrote these books.

Jonathan Cross was a colporteur for the American Tract Society during the middle of the 19th century - a traveling salesman of Christian books, newspapers and pamphlets. And what he saw in churches across America led him to write a two volume set, Illustrations of the Shorter Catechism, a collection of brief commentary and stories for each question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

Here is Cross' explanation of why he wrote, and it reminds us that the struggle of teaching children the catechism is not new: "For a score of years he has travelled more or less in most of the states of this Union, and been in some Sabbath-school almost every Sabbath, and whenever this Catechism was in use he has found superintendents and teachers labouring under the same difficulties. Many of our teachers are young and inexperienced in the Christian life, and many not even professors of religion. These often say that the Catechism is so dry they cannot get the children to learn it, and many honestly confess that they cannot understand it. In this way the Catechism fails to be taught to many of the rising generation in our churches. The same is true with thousands of parents. They say, 'We cannot get our children to learn the Catechism, it is such a dry study; and we are not competent to explain it to them in a way to interest them.' These complaints have been so long made, and to such an extent, that the author has been surprised that some one, much more competent than he, has not given to our Church long ere this a suitable work."

So even parents in the 19th century thought the Catechism was dry and catechizing was difficult! May the Lord use these books to help parents in their high calling to teach their children the doctrines of our holy religion.

Don't overlook these two 19th century commentaries on the Westminster Standards!

In a previous post, we highlighted Ashbel Green's Commentary on the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Today we point out two important commentaries on the Westminster Confession of Faith, one by a Northern Presbyterian (Archibald Alexander Hodge's Commentary on the Confession of Faith) and one by a Southern Presbyterian (Francis Beattie's The Presbyterian Standards). Hodge's book is familiar to most Presbyterian students of theology and church history, but fewer are aware of Beattie's volume - which is a shame, because he interacts with all three of the Westminster Standards together, and thus his work is particularly helpful. 

As an example of Beattie's theological sensibilities, I have appreciated his comment on the relationship between the covenant of grace and the covenant of redemption in light of WLC #31:

"Sometimes the distinction is made by theologians between what is called the covenant of redemption and the covenant of grace. According to the former, God enters into covenant with his Son, giving him a people whom he redeems and assuredly saves. According to the latter, God enters into covenant with his people to redeem and save them by his Son, as the Mediator whom he has appointed. In the first case, God and the Son are the parties to the covenant, and the Son is the surety for his people; and in the latter case, God and the elect are the parties, and the Son is the Mediator between them. The Standards do not distinctly recognize this twofold aspect of the covenant. They speak of a second covenant, commonly called the covenant of grace, according to which God has been pleased to provide for and secure the salvation of the elect. This distinction may be regarded as a valid one, so long as the idea of two covenants is not entertained. Strictly speaking, there can be only one covenant, but that covenant may be viewed in the twofold aspect, which this distinction implies. The Scripture terms mediator and surety, as applied to Christ, quite justify this twofold view of the covenant of grace, though the covenant itself is always one and the same." 

Though not all will agree with this formulation, I believe all will agree that Beattie is a man who has wrestled with the Scriptures and the text of the Standards. Tolle lege!

 

A 19th Century American Presbyterian Commentary on the Westminster Shorter Catechism

If I asked you for a list of commentaries on the Westminster Shorter Catechism, chances are this two volume set by Ashbel Green wouldn't be on it. But you can find it here, written for the youth of his day. He also published a history of Presbyterian mission work during the 19th century. There's more Ashbel Green material out there to be found, so check back again soon.