The Need for Creeds

Do you wonder what it means to be a confessional Presbyterian? It is one thing to understand Presbyterianism, a form of church government and worship; it is another to understand the importance and value of confessions or creeds. 

We have some resources to help understand Presbyterianism, of course; but this post is especially meant to highlight resources on confessionalism, as understood by Presbyterians, which are available at Log College Press. 

  • Samuel Miller, The Utility and Importance of Creeds and Confessions (1824);
  • Francis Robert Beattie, "A Brief Description of the Great Christian Creeds" and "The Nature and uses of Religious Creeds" in The Presbyterian Standards: An Exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms (1896);
  • Robert Lewis Dabney, "The Doctrinal Contents of the Confession—Its Fundamental and Regulative ideas; and the Necessity and Value of Creeds" in Memorial Volume of the Westminster Assembly, 1647-1897 (1897);
  • James D. Tadlock, "The Relation of the [Westminster] Standards to Other Creeds" in Memorial Volume of the Westminster Assembly, 1647-1897 (1897);
  • B.B. Warfield, The Significance of the Westminster Standards as a Creed (1898); and
  • Egbert Watson Smith, The Creed of Presbyterians (1901).

    These works have much to say about why we need to articulate Scriptural truths in creedal form, and how they benefit the church. Take a look and consider especially what Miller, Beattie, and Dabney have to say about the need for creeds. 

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. 

Princeton Studies for Your Reading Pleasure

From the original Log College (1723-1746) to the College of New Jersey (1746-1896) to Princeton University (1896-present) and to Princeton Theological Seminary (1812-present), we are developing here at Log College Press a wealth of resources for further study about the history and character of our namesake during its golden era. We owe a debt of gratitude to the fine folks at PTS today who have worked so diligently to make accessible so many works from their libraries through Internet Archive, from which many of the resources noted below are derived. 

Beginning, of course, with the companion books by Archibald Alexander, the first professor of Princeton Theological Seminary, Biographical Sketches of the Founder, and Principal Alumni of the Log College (Alexander wrote: "It may with truth be said, that the Log College was the germ from which proceeded the flourishing College of New Jersey") and Sermons of the Log College (not forgetting also his inaugural sermon at the College in 1812 and other related works), one may learn about the Log College founded by William Tennant, Sr. 

His son, Samuel Davies Alexander, also wrote a useful volume titled Princeton College During the Eighteenth Century (1872), and a smaller work, Princeton College, Illustrated (1877).

Samuel Miller, the second professor installed at Princeton Theological Seminary, published A Brief History of the Theological Seminary of the Presbyterian Church at Princeton, New Jersey, Together With Its Constitution, By-Laws, &c (1837), and who can forget his famous "Able and Faithful Ministry" inauguration sermon for Archibald Alexander in 1812? It was Miller who laid out one of the primary goals of the seminary: "It is to unite, in those who shall sustain the ministerial office, religion and literature; that piety of the heart, which is the fruit only of the renewing and sanctifying grace of God, with solid learning: believing that religion without learning, or learning without religion, in the ministers of the Gospel, must ultimately prove injurious to the Church.

Thomas Murphy's The Presbytery of the Log College; or, The Cradle of the Presbyterian Church in America is another excellent place to begin by examining Princeton's roots, and growth into the 19th century. 

William Armstrong Dod wrote a History of the College of New Jersey from the period of 1746 to 1783; as did John Maclean, the college's 10th president, in two volumes, spanning 1746 to 1854. Both men are buried at Princeton Cemetery. 

John Thomas Duffield published The Princeton Pulpit in 1852, which is a fine collection of notable Princeton sermons. Charles Hodge's Princeton Sermons are available to read here, as is B.B. Warfield's inaugural address at Princeton. There is also a wonderful compilation of Princeton Sermons published in 1893. We have William Henry Green's inaugural discourse, as well as the celebration of the 50th anniversary of his tenure on the faculty of Princeton, which coincided with the sesquicentennial of the college (1896).

John DeWitt, an alumni from the Class of 1861, published Princeton College Administrations in the Nineteenth Century as well as The Planting of Princeton College, both in 1897.

Charles Adamson Salmond, another Princeton alumni, wrote the most remarkable work Princetoniana: Charles & A.A. Hodge: With Class and Table Talk of Hodge the Younger, from the perspective of "a Scottish Princetonian." 

Our library is growing. If this topic interests you, please click on the author links above. We have catalogued many more secondary resources about Princeton here. We are thankful for the "able and faithful ministry" of the Princeton men, and the books we have identified here are a great way to introduce yourself to them. 

Wanted: A Samaritan

We have had occasion previously to take notice of the number of poets that are represented among the ministers highlighted at Log College Press. B.B. Warfield is one of those Presbyterian pastor-poets.

One of his particular compositions is brief but profound. Interestingly, he first published "Wanted: A Samaritan" in January 31, 1907 issue of The Independent under the non de plum "Nicholas Worth, Jr." It was later published under his own name in Four Hymns and Some Religious Verses (1910). 

Wanted: A Samaritan

Prone in the road he lay,
Wounded and sore bested:
Priests, Levites past that way
And turned aside the head.

They were not hardened men
In human service slack:
His need was great: but then,
His face, you see, was black.

To Catch Sight of the Ineffable Vision

Have you visited the Compilations page at Log College Press recently? We are adding special volumes by multiple authors as we can. One such gem that is very much worth downloading and studying with care is the 1909 Calvin Memorial Addresses.

In May 1909, the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS) assembled in Savannah, Georgia, to honor the 400th anniversary of the birth of the French Reformer, John Calvin. It was on this occasion that a gavel was presented to the Moderator of the General Assembly. That gavel was made from a timber of wood obtained from the tower of the St. Pierre
Cathedral in Geneva from which John Calvin preached. It was a fitting tribute to a man whom we admire because he, it seems, had "caught sight of the ineffable Vision." In the Calvin Memorial Addresses delivered on that occasion, B.B. Warfield (1851-1921) gave a description of Calvinism and what it means to be a Calvinist, a description that resonates a century on: 

"The Calvinist, in a word, is the man who sees God. He has caught sight of the ineffable Vision, and he will not let it fade for a moment from his eyes—God in nature, God in history, God in grace. Everywhere he sees God in His mighty stepping, everywhere he feels the working of His mighty arm, the throbbing of His mighty heart. The Calvinist is therefore, by way of eminence, the supernaturalist in the world of thought. The world itself is to him a supernatural product. not merely in the sense that somewhere, away back before all time, God made it, but that God is making it now, and in every event that falls out. In every modification of what is, that takes place, His hand is visible, as through all occurrences His “one increasing purpose runs”. Man himself is His— created for His glory, and having as the one supreme end of his existence to glorify his Maker, and haply also to enjoy Him for ever. And salvation, in every step and stage of it, is of God. Conceived in God’s love, wrought out by God’s own Son in a supernatural life and death in this world of sin, and applied by God’s Spirit in a series of acts as supernatural as the virgin birth and the resurrection of the Son of God themselves—it is a supernatural work through and through. To the Calvinist, thus, the Church of God is as direct a creation of God as the first creation itself. In this supernaturalism, the whole thought and feeling and life of the Calvinist is steeped. Without it there can be no Calvinism, for it is just this that is Calvinism....But let us make no mistake here. For here, too, Calvinism is just Christianity. The supernaturalism for which Calvinism stands is the very breath of the nostrils of Christianity; without it Christianity cannot exist. And let us not imagine that we can pick and choose with respect to the aspects of this supernaturalism which we acknowledge—that we may, for example, retain supernaturalism in the origination of Christianity. and forego the supernaturalism with which Calvinism is more immediately concerned, the supernaturalism of the application of Christianity. Men will not believe that a religion, the actual working of which in the world is natural, can have required to be ushered into the world with supernatural pomp and display. These supernaturals stand or fall together....This is what was meant by the late Dr. H. Boynton Smith, when he declared roundly: 'One thing is certain,—that Infidel Science will rout everything excepting thoroughgoing Christian orthodoxy. . . . The fight will be between a stiff thoroughgoing orthodoxy and a stiff thoroughgoing infidelity. It will be, for example, Augustine or Comte, Athanasius or Hegel, Luther or Schopenhauer, J. S. Mill or John Calvin.' This witness is true....Calvinism thus emerges to our sight as nothing more or less than the hope of the world."

Have you seen all the works by B. B. Warfield on the Log College Press website?

Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield was born on this day in 1851. He was a prolific author, and we've posted a lot of his works on the Log College Press website here. One of his most famous books is The Plan of Salvation (1915), which nicely lays out the competing claims of autosoterism (self-salvation), sacerdotalism, universalism, and Calvinism. It is a must read by any serious student of theology. If you don't have a copy of it, download it from Warfield's author page.

B. B. Warfield on Luther's 95 Theses

If you're looking for some insight into the theology of Luther's 95 Theses, don't miss B.B. Warfield (1851-1921), The Ninety-Five Theses in Their Theological Significance (1917). Originally published in The Princeton Theological Review in honor of the 400th anniversary of the Reformation, this is a fascinating study of the document by Martin Luther that launched the Reformation on October 31, 1517.

Three 19th century Presbyterian poets/hymn writers: J. W. Alexander, B. B. Warfield, and John L. Girardeau

I knew that James Waddel Alexander was a poet. He translated "O Sacred Head Now Wounded" from the German. But I had no idea that B. B. Warfield and John Lafeyette Girardeau were also poets and hymn writers. Yet listen to these rich gospel lines from the pen of Girardeau:

'Nothing to pay?' No, nothing, to win
Salvation by merit from law and from sin;
But all things, to buy, without money and price.
The wine and the milk of a free Paradise.

'Nothing to do?' No, not to procure
A heaven, by infinite blood made secure;
But all things, with labour and sweat of the face,
To honor my Saviour and magnify grace.

'What of the law?' Its thunders were stilled
Against my poor soul, by the blood that was spilled:
But the hands which were nailed to the wood of the Tree
Now wield its commands to be honored by me.

'Nothing of guilt?' No, not to my God,
As Judge and Condemner, uplifting His rod;
But, ah, I am guilty of breaking His Word
In the house of my Father—the Church of my Lord.

'What am I waiting for?' Spare me a while
To tell of Thy love to a sinner so vile!
Then take me to Heaven, which is not my due.
And give me the Crown of Fidelity, too!

You can find Alexander's translations of German hymns (entitled The Breaking Crucible) here; B. B. Warfield's Four Hymns and Some Religious Verses, a published volume of hymns (with some musical settings!) and poems, here; and Girardeau's poems on pages 345-364 of The Life Work of John L. Girardeau by George A Blackburn. Use these volumes in your private worship. And let me know if you think it would be a worthy project to reprint these hymns/poems in a single book.

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.

Digital gold: B. B. Warfield's "On the Emotional Life of our Lord" and two Inaugural Addresses

One of the great American Presbyterian theologians, B. B. Warfield's article "On the Emotional Life of our Lord" (from Biblical and Theological Studies published by the Princeton Theological Seminary faculty) is among his most important works. His two inaugural addresses are not far behind. The first was given at Western Theological Seminary (modern Pittsburgh Theological Seminary) in 1880, entitled "Is the Church Doctrine of the Plenary Inspiration of the New Testament Endangered by the Assured Results of Modern Biblical Criticism?" The second was given at Princeton Theological Seminary in 1888, entitled "The Idea of Systematic Theology Considered as a Science." You can find them both on the B. B. Warfield page of the Log College Press site. 

One of the projects we have in mind for reprinting is an anthology of seminary inaugural addresses from the 19th century. Does anyone else think this would be a worthwhile endeavor?