D.H. Hill on the Three Cardinal Graces

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“We have men of science, too few men of God. We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount. The world has achieved brilliance without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living. If we continue to develop our technology without wisdom or prudence, our servant may prove to be our executioner.” — General Omar Bradley, Armistice Day Speech, 1948

Military men, confronted with issues of conscience, have often been at the forefront of addressing matters of ethics. One example of this is found in the religious writings of Daniel Harvey Hill, best known for his military service for the United States in the Mexican War and later as a Confederate general, who also served a professor of mathematics at the Presbyterian college of Davidson, in North Carolina, and was a devout Presbyterian. In 1858, he authored A Consideration of the Sermon on the Mount.

It is from this remarkable volume, discoursing on the Beatitudes, that we can read what a mighty man of war has to say about what it means to love one’s enemies. Further on, speaking of the Lord’s Prayer, he again takes up the subject of love, or charity, in conjunction with “the three cardinal graces of the Christian character.”

The prayer, too, in its very language presupposes the existence in the heart of the utterer, of the three cardinal graces of the Christian character — Faith, Hope, and Charity.

Faith. For he says “Our Father.” “He that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” Heb. xi. 6.

Hope. For he uses the language of expectation, “May thy kingdom with all its blessings come. May my daily food be given,” &c.

Charity — Love to God and love to man. For he uses a sublime ascription of praise to the Triune God, and he asks only for pardon from God, upon condition of his own universal good-will to his fellow-creatures. “Forgive me my debts, as I forgive my debtors.”

The graces spoken of by the Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 13 are well-known. But here Hill connects them specifically to the Lord’s Prayer, and in so doing, he reminds us to exercise these graces in our prayers, as well as to seek for the grace to exemplify them in our lives. Consider these thoughts today from Hill, who, although he was a man of war at times during his life, or perhaps because of that, understood that these are the virtues that should shine in every Christian — and “these greatest of these is charity.”

Titus Basfield's 'key to open any lock in Doubting Castle'

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Now a little before it was day, good Christian, as one half amazed, brake out in this passionate Speech, What a fool, quoth he, am I thus to lie in a stinking Dungeon, when I may as well walk at liberty? I have a Key in my bosom, called Promise, that will, I am persuaded, open any Lock in Doubting Castle. Then said Hopeful, That’s good News; good Brother pluck it out of thy bosom and try. — John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress

Do you know the story of Titus Basfield, a 19th century African-American Associate Presbyterian minister? We have highlighted that story here previously. It is a remarkable one, and Basfield’s 1858 autobiography is worth reading in full. Today’s post zeroes in on a portion of the account he gave of his life wherein, having embraced Christ by faith, after careful study of the Old and New Testaments, he still needed to settle certain matters of faith and practice in his own mind and heart. It may be an encouragement to others even today.

In the meantime the [Westminster] Assembly's Questions were put into my hands, and I committed them to memory; and Mr. [James] Hervey's whole works being at hand, I made it my business to read these carefully through. The clear, simple and concise manner in which gospel truth was explained and set forth in the Assembly's Questions, and the masterly manner in which the judicious Hervey managed his Scripture arguments in his Theron and Aspasio, and especially Aspasio Vindicated, opened up to me clearly the great doctrines of the atonement, the divine decrees, election, the vicarious death of the Son of God, imputation of his righteousness as the only ground of our justification and acceptance before God, and of free sovereign grace reigning through the all-prevailing righteousness and satisfaction of the Eternal Son -- and fully settled my mind as to the great truth that these were doctrines taught in the Holy Scriptures. I also read a number of books highly recommended in Mr. Hervey's works, which treated largely upon these subjects, such as [Thomas] Boston's "Human Nature in its Four-fold State;" his excellent treatise on the Covenants, and [Walter] Marshall's "Gospel Mystery of Sanctification." This last is a book so highly esteemed, that he makes it his choice after the Bible. These books I sought, obtained, and read with the greatest care and attention, which afforded a fund of scriptural knowledge, and a good degree of steadfastness in the Calvinistic system. (And here I would seriously recommend these valuable books, which will serve as a 'key to open any lock in Doubting Castle.' Pilgrim's Progress.)

Geerhardus Vos on Heavenly-Mindedness

Geerhardus Vos has a wonderful sermon on “Heavenly-Mindedness,” based on Hebrews 11:9-10, in Grace and Glory that is worth reading in full. This extract should whet the appetite for more:

The other-worldliness of the patriarchs showed itself in this, that they confessed to be strangers and pilgrims on the earth. It found its visible expression in their dwelling in tents. Not strangers and pilgrims outside of Canaan, but strangers and pilgrims in the earth. The writer places all the emphasis on this, that they pursued their tent-life in the very land of promise, which was their own, as in a land not their own. Only in this way is a clear connection be tween the staying in tents and the looking for ward to heaven obtained. For otherwise the tents might have signified merely that they considered themselves not at home when away from the holy land. If even in Canaan they carried within themselves the consciousness of pilgrim age then it becomes strikingly evident that it was a question of fundamental, comprehensive choice between earth and heaven. The adherence to the tent-life in the sight and amidst the scenes of the promised land fixes the aspiration of the patriarchs as aiming at the highest conceivable heavenly goal. It has in it somewhat of the scorn of the relative and of compromise. He who knows that for him a palace is in building does not dally with desires for improvement on a lower scale. Contentment with the lowest becomes in such a case profession of the highest, a badge of spiritual aristocracy with its proud insistence upon the ideal. Only the predestined inhabitants of the eternal city know how to conduct themselves in a simple tent as kings and princes of God.

John Rodgers on "a life of usefulness"

In November of 1808, John Rodgers preached a sermon at the opening of a new Presbyterian church in New York City, at the conclusion of which he left us with profound words to meditate and act upon even today:

As ever therefore sinners would wish to be reconciled to God — to escape eternal misery, and be prepared for unwasting blessedness — and as ever the people of God would wish to enjoy the comforts, the consolations of the religion of Jesus, as they pass through life — as they would wish to grow into a meetness for the inheritance of the saints in light, after a life of usefulness on earth — We most affectionately beseech both the one and the other, to be steady, uniform, and conscientious, in their attendance upon the house of God. Amen. (John Rodgers, The Presence of Christ the Glory of a Church: A Sermon Delivered November 6th, 1808, at the Opening of the Presbyterian Church in Cedar Street, New York)

"Let Him Who Loves Me Follow Me": A Story by E.D. Warfield

Ethelbert Dudley Warfield (1861-1936) was the younger brother of Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield (visit their pages to see how alike their pictures are!). After studying and practicing law, E.D. Warfield would go on to serve in other capacities such as a Presbyterian minister and ruling elder, and as president of Miami (Ohio) University, Lafayette College and Wilson College, as well as a director of Princeton Theological Seminary.

Among his varied and interesting writings, many of which are fascinating histories, today we highlight At the Evening Hour: Simple Talks on Spiritual Subjects (1898) and, in particular, a story that he tells at the beginning, which is inspirational. This and other stories from this volume are derived from his Sabbath afternoon addresses to the students at Lafayette College, and were published with the aim to “bring a message of cheer to others who are seeking to live for Christ and his service.”

In April 1512, Warfield tells us, the French were facing a Spanish-Papal States alliance in Italy, at Ravenna, as part of the War of the Holy League. Gaston de Foix, Duke of Nemours, and nephew of King Louis XII of France, led the French forces as an extremely capable military commander, and though young (in his early twenties), he was known as “the Thunderbolt of Italy,” and was beloved by his men. De Foix died an heroic, gallant death in this battle, even as he led his soldiers to victory (though the French would soon be forced to vacate Italy).

The battle was waged with varying fortune. At length, when the triumph of the French seemed assured, there came a change in the tide of battle. Two battalions of the Spanish infantry, the wonder of the age, were about to break through their all but victorious foemen. The young general determined to avert this, and prepared to lead a charge. Those about him strove to prevent so hazardous an adventure, but in vain. As they still urged him, pressing round him on the field, he suddenly broke from them, crying, "Let him who loves me follow me!" and spurred upon the foe. For a moment they paused. Then every gentleman of France, every battle-scarred mercenary, every stout burgher and peasant pikeman, followed where he led, with that brave call, "Let him who loves me follow me!" ringing in his ears.

The Spaniards, not used to falter, faltered at that shock; the lions of Aragon and the castles of Castile gave way before the lilies of France, and the trumpets and clarions pealed forth gladly the notes of triumph. But the noblest lay round their leader slain. They had heard his call, "Let him who loves me follow me!" and they had followed him to "death and glorious victory." They followed him, even unto death, for the love they bore him. They followed him, they died with him, though with them perished the cause they served.

Louis, when he heard the story of that fatal field, exclaimed that he would rather have lost Italy than that gallant boy. Well might he say so, for in losing him he lost Italy.

Across the centuries comes the call of one who hath loved us unto the death, bidding us follow him. We have not loved him first, but he has loved us, even from the foundation of the world. He saith to us, "If any man will come after me, let him . . . take up his cross, and follow me."

Who is this that speaks to us thus? He is the Captain of our salvation. His right to our allegiance is absolute, because he is the Son of God. But he does not base his call on this claim, which he might justly assert, but on the character of the service. It is a good service, a service in itself joyous, in which those who are employed are ennobled by the cause they serve, and in which victory is sure.

The men who followed Gaston de Foix on that memorable day knew that they were doing a foolhardy thing; they did not know that it would be a thing remembered through many generations. They knew it was to end in almost certain death; they did not know that it was to be crowned with glory. They followed, not for glory, nor for the fruits of victory, but for the love of him who called them. Theirs was a hard service, and its reward was death.

Those who follow Christ know that they are doing the wisest possible act; they are able to read in the countless examples of men in many generations the results of such a following of him. They know that it means effort, constant, unfailing courage, boldness, faithfulness. They know that it means the giving up of all sinful pleasures; but they know also that it means, even in this world, triumph; that the Christian wins from all good men respect and confidence, and wrings from bad men even a grudging, but no less real, trust and acknowledgment of qualities which they do not covet, yet must needs admire; and, at the end, fearless death, and, as we confidently believe, endless life beyond the grave. The Christian does not need to take thought how he shall die bravely, for he who has lived well need take no thought how he shall die.

Cortland Van Rensselaer on Numbering Our Days

In January of 1860, an article appeared in The Presbyterian Magazine by its editor, Cortlandt Van Rensselaer, Sr., and it was included posthumously in his Essays and Discourses, Practical and Historical (1861), edited by his son, Cortlandt Van Rensselaer, Jr.. Titled “On Numbering Our Days,” it was based on the text from Moses in Psalm 90:12: “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.”

It is a meditation on the brevity of life and our need, consequently, to seek after wisdom. The time that is given to us is precious. He highlights especially the value of Sabbath-time, noting that 52 Sabbaths, or roughly seven weeks, each year amount to a special opportunity to glorify God. Are we making use of the time given to us? Are we improving the opportunities, temptations, afflictions and experiences of our lives consistent with our purpose on this earth as we look ahead to our permanent abode in heaven?

Our days indeed are numbered, but we do not know the number. Seven months after his meditation on numbering our days was published, Cortlandt Van Rensselaer, age 52, entered into his eternal rest. One does not know when that final numbered day will come, but Van Rensselaer’s meditation on the wisdom of Moses should ever be before our eyes. Take time to consider his counsel to number our days and apply our hearts unto wisdom.

”God has made our days long enough and short enough; certain enough and uncertain enough ; with joys enough and sorrows enough, to adapt life to the purposes of his grace and providence. May he, in his infinite mercy, so teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.”

Two Companion Books on the Christian Life by Joseph B. Stratton

New Jersey-born Joseph Buck Stratton, Sr. (1815-1903), after graduating Princeton and practicing law for three years, spent the next five decades in the pastoral ministry in Natchez, Mississippi. A prolific writer, two companion volumes published by him in the 1880’s show the warmth of his pastoral ministry. Both volumes were written as aids to those within the scope of his local pastorate, but have a wider and long-lasting sphere of influence.

The first is Confessing Christ: A Manual for Inquirers in Religion (1880). This is a work designed to persuade men to come to Christ, to profess his name and to embrace the life of a true believer. Also, he addresses matters which can be stumbling-blocks to the new believer, such as the tendency to fall into the pit of unnecessary theological controversies early in the Christian walk or “to ‘look back’ after you have been led to ‘put your hand to the plough,’” thus proving oneself unfit for the kingdom of God. It is a work of great practical value and encouragement to take up one’s cross and confess Christ.

The second is Following Christ: A Manual for Church-Members (1884). In this volume, Stratton helps those who have confessed the name of Christ to come to understand the necessity of joining with the local body of believers, and following the rules of Christian community, including worship in the public, family and private spheres, as well as what it means to live a religious life outside the church. Again, this is a work of practical value coming from a writer with decades of experience in the pastoral ministry.

These two books were appreciated by Stratton’s original audience, and they are worthy of study and consideration by a 21st century audience as well. Take time to download them and ponder the wisdom of a 19th century under-shepherd who had a heart for his flock to lead them in confessing and following the Great Shepherd.