American Presbyterians Wish You a Happy Independence Day!

The Fourth of July is a holiday that tends to unite American Presbyterians. Their historically Scotch-Irish heritage certainly plays a part in this, for resistance to British rule was carried across the Atlantic by many. But more largely, Augustinian / Calvinistic principles of interposition of lesser civil magistrates against tyrants have guided Presbyterian understanding of the legitimacy of a resistance movement such as that of 1776. It was not without cause that the conflict between Great Britain and the American colonies was labelled by Tories "the Presbyterian Rebellion." But American Presbyterians would call it a lawful War of Independence, or Revolution.

The 1776 Declaration of Independence, it is argued by many, was inspired or modeled after the 1775 Mecklenburg Declaration and Mecklenburg Resolves. These, in turn, were the fruit of the ministry of Alexander Craighead, who was the first American colonist to publicly advocate for armed resistance against Great Britain, decades before Lexington and Concord. "In July, 1777, the Covenanters in Eastern Pennsylvania unitedly swore allegiance to the cause of the Colonies. These little Societies furnished no less than thirteen of Washington's officers, as well as many soldiers in the ranks" (John Wagner Pritchard, Soldiers of the Church, p. 22; W.M. Glasgow, Reformed Presbyterian Church in America, p. 68). 

Some notable Presbyterians served the cause of American Independence, such as John Rogers, as chaplain; Alexander MacWhorter, also as chaplain; and John Witherspoon, as a signer of the Declaration of Independence. 

The seeds of independence were planted early: 

* Alexander Craighead (1707-1766)Renewal of the Covenants, November 11, 1743 (1748)

* Gilbert Tennent (1703-1764), Defensive War Defended (1748)

During the War: 

John Witherspoon (1723-1794), The Dominion of Providence Over the Passions of Men (1776)

In the era of the Articles of Confederation: 

* Robert Smith (1723-1793)The Obligations of the Confederate States of North America to Praise God: Two Sermons (1781)

* John Rodgers (1727-1811), The Divine Goodness Displayed, in the American Revolution (1784)

In the century after the birth of the new constitutional republic: 

* John Hall (1806-1894), The Examples of the Revolution (1859)

* William Pratt Breed (1816-1889)Presbyterianism, and Its Services in the Revolution of 1776 (1875); and Presbyterians and the Revolution (1876)

These volumes and more record God's providential hand in American history, and as we remember the people, places and circumstances surrounding the establishment of the American republic over two centuries ago, these writers have much to say to us today. Take time to peruse these books, and consider the debt that we owe to those who fought for and upheld civil liberties as well as ecclesiastical. 

Helps to Private and Family Prayer

Two works by 19th century American Presbyterians newly added to Log College Press are designed to aid individuals and families in their devotions to God. 

The first, by James Robert Boyd (1804-1890), is Daily Communion with God on the Plan Recommended by Rev. Matthew Henry, V.D.M., for Beginning, Spending, and Concluding Each Day with God (1873). This revision of Henry's Directions for Daily Communion with God (a work that has also been republished under the title of The Secret of Communion with God, is different than his Method of Prayer), is edited with helpful introductory matter concerning the life of Henry, Henry's own practice of piety, and poetic verse inserted by Boyd for meditation and contemplation. This work shows the value placed by one 19th century Presbyterian minister on spending each day for and with God, much as his Puritan forebears did. 

The second is a course of daily family prayers for morning and evening over a month's time by John Hall (1829-1898), called Family Prayers, For Four Weeks (1868). These written prayers should be seen as guides for those in need of assistance in leading their family worship, that is, head of households, including households with absent fathers. They are meant to be adapted or modified to suit circumstances, but mainly to encourage regular family worship twice a day. They are partly Hall's own writings, and partly borrowed, he says, from an earlier anonymous author. One will note the prayers for Sabbath preparation and sanctification, as well as for all the daily needs of individuals, families, and civil and ecclesiastical society. This is a good guide for families who need a bit of assistance in this most precious family duty. 

If you need help with your private or family prayers, or know someone who does (and who doesn't?), please download these works and make use today of these valuable aids from two centuries gone by. 

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. 

A Text Should Not Be a Pretext

In the vein of Charles Spurgeon's Lectures to My Students, the 1875 Lyman Beecher lectures on preaching at Yale College given by John Hall (1808-1898), as well as the 1870 volume of addresses to theological students on Successful Preaching by Hall, Theodore Cuyler and Henry Ward Beecher, contain much practical wisdom for students of the ministry. 

Born in County Armagh, Ireland, John Hall began in his own theological studies in 1845, and was ordained in 1850 to missionary labors in predominantly Catholic western Ireland. He went on to serve as pastor or associate pastor in Armagh and Dublin, before attending the 1867 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. He was quickly offered a pastorate at the vacant pulpit of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City. After moving his family to New York, he would go on to serve this congregation with great success until his death in 1898. Although he died on a trip abroad to Ireland, he was buried in New York. 

In God's Word Through Preaching, Hall expounds on many topics of importance to ministers and their flocks: the importance of preaching Christ, illustrations and controversies handled from the pulpit, the personal godliness of ministers, the question of whether sermons should be read, remarks on James Waddel Alexander's Thoughts on Preaching -- Hall was among those who preached at the memorial services for Alexander after his death in 1859 -- and many other interesting topics are worth perusing in Hall lectures. Following his remarks, an appendix includes real questions from Yale theology students to Hall and his succinct responses. 

To give but one example of this exchange: 

Question: What relation should the text bear to the sermon?

The text should sustain, suggest, and give tone to the sermon. The main thought of the text should usually be the main thought of the sermon. A text must not be made a pretext.