Have You Explored Our Topical Categories?

Did you know that Log College Press not only has over 100 authors and over 1000 books/articles uploaded to the site, but also that we have 28 topical categories into which many of those works are sorted? 

The topics that we have highlighted (thus far) include the following (with volumes included as of the end of July 2018): 

Apologetics – 4
Autobiographies – 16
Biographies – 109
Christian Life – 26
Christology – 20
Church and State – 66
Church History – 117
Commentaries – 36
Compilations – 16
Correspondence – 8
Devotional – 22
Ecclesiology - 79
Eschatology – 13
Ethics – 4
Family – 20
Fiction – 14
Funeral Discourses – 34
Inaugural Addresses – 25
Missions – 41
Pastoral Theology – 6
Poetry – 24
Preaching – 9
Sacraments – 28
Sermons – 110
Systematic Theology – 13
Travelogues – 22
Westminster Standards – 39
Worship – 70

These numbers, DV, will only grow as the work of making this site a more invaluable resource for students of early American Presbyterian literature continues. If you have an interest in a particular topic listed above, please take time to browse our available titles and be sure to check back periodically for more. Thank you for interest! 

Happy Birthday to J. Gresham Machen!

It was on July 28, 1881, that John Gresham Machen entered the world. The baby born that day in Baltimore, Maryland to Arthur and Mary Jones Gresham Machen would go on to become a Professor of New Testament studies at Princeton Seminary. Furthermore, in the crucible of denominational apostasy, Machen was led to help found three major institutions: the Independent Board for Foreign Presbyterian Missions, Westminster Theological Seminary, and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC). 

Known to his students as "Das," he is often considered the last or one of the last great Princeton men. Just before he died in Bismarck, North Dakota, on January 1, 1937, he dictated a final telegram to his friend and college, Professor John Murray, in which he stated the famous words: "I'm so thankful for the active obedience of Christ. No hope without it."

We give tribute to this man today, by inviting you to check out works by him, and works about him (including biographies of Machen by D.G. Hart, William Masselink, Steven J. Nichols, and Ned B. Stonehouse) at Log College Press. Happy birthday Mr. Machen! 

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. 

Was John Calvin Ordained?

A question that has often been asked of Presbyterians who believe that ordination that is required for the pastoral ministry runs like this: Was John Calvin ever ordained? Indeed, it is often assumed that he was not, in fact, ordained. If not, what does mean for the Presbyterian theory of ordination? If so, by who, when, and where? 

This historical question with ecclesiological ramifications is taken up in Vol. 3 of Thomas Smyth's Complete Works and in the individual volume titled Calvin and His Enemies: A Memoir of the Life, Character, and Principles of Calvin. There is both a chapter titled "A Supplementary Vindication of the Ordination of Calvin" and further discussion of Calvin's ordination in Appendix V. These remarks affirm that Calvin was indeed ordained, and while specific records of this historical fact are lacking, the event itself cannot be denied based on the evidence given by Smyth. 

He begins his essay by affirming an important point: "The validity of Presbyterian ordination depends, IN NO MANNER OR DEGREE, upon the ordination of Calvin." The problems or challenges for Presbyterians that might result from a certain answer to the question above may equally present problems or challenges for those opposed to Presbyterian church government. As Smyth argues further on, the same lack of details that the historical record yields regarding the date, location and persons involved in Calvin's ordination might apply to the parallel case of Bishop Joseph Butler more than a century later, whose ordination is nevertheless disputed by no one (hence "they who live in glass houses ought not to throw stones"). However, in fact, this is an historical question that does not make or break the Presbyterian doctrine of ordination for the pastoral office, which stands upon Scripture.

Delving into the historical question, Smyth adduces the testimony of Calvin himself, Theodore Beza and Franciscus Junius the Elder to show that he was indeed an ordained presbyter. He also highlights the practice of the Presbytery of Geneva, and the fact that this point was not controverted within his lifetime by his Roman Catholic or other enemies who had reason to make his supposed lack of ordination a point of contention. 

Both the historical record and the implications of whether Calvin was unordained, ordained in the Roman Church, or ordained as Protestant minister of the gospel (or both) are addressed by Smyth head-on. He presents a solid argument to show that Calvin was indeed ordained by both the Roman Catholic Church and the Presbytery of Geneva. 

Take time to familiarize yourself with Smyth's remarks on this question because it has been raised for centuries and is still raised today, although the question, this writer believes, was clearly settled in the 19th century, if not earlier. In Smyth's separate biography of Calvin, see Chap. IX, pp. 84-101, and Appendix V, pp. 160-162; in Vol. 3 of Smyth's Complete Works, see Chap. IX, pp. 360-368, and Appendix V, pp. 390-391 (the biography is dated 1856, and Vol. 3 of Smyth's Complete Works was published in 1908; the latter discussion of Calvin's ordination is a slightly expanded edition of the earlier). This is a question with an answer to be had, and Smyth has answered well. 

The True Theologian

In 1675, the Dutch Reformed theologian Herman Witsius gave an inaugural address to divinity students at the university in Franeker, the Netherlands. This oration has endured as a monument to experimental piety. It was completely translated for the first time into English in 1877 by Free Church of Scotland minister John Donaldson, and this edition was republished by Ligon Duncan in 1994 under the title On the Character of a True Theologian. It has been commended by men such as William Cunningham in the 19th century and Joel Beeke in the 20th century for its combined spiritual profundity and intellectual acuity. An abridged translation was previously published by Archibald Alexander in The Biblical Repertory and Theological Review, April 1832, with the title The Character of the Genuine Theologian. Alexander's translation is now available to read at Log College Press. 

As Beeke wrote of this valuable work: "Witsius' inaugural, On the Character of a True Theologian, is a masterpiece which exemplifies his own dictum: 'He alone is a true theologian who adds the practical to the theoretical part of religion.' Like all of Witsius' writings, this address marries profound intellect with spiritual passion. All Christians, but especially theological students and ministers, would do well to peruse it prayerfully and repeatedly." Alexander commends further its "elevated thought and ardent piety." It has great value for church officers, laymen, and indeed all who seek to serve Christ in every capacity. 

Of the Venerable Dead

Some quotes are special. Anyone who enjoys the peaceful pastime of library reading will appreciate what Samuel Davies of Hanover County, Virginia, once wrote to his brother-in-law, John Holt, residing in Williamsburg, in which Davies refers to himself as a "happy recluse." Davies' words have oft been repeated, with some variation, but rarely properly cited. 

This writer spent many years seeking out the original letter from which the famous quote came. It was recently with the most kind and gracious assistance of Dr. Dewey Roberts, author of a wonderful and highly recommended biography titled Samuel Davies: Apostle to Virginia (2017, available here), that a photograph of the letter was obtained, the original of which resides in the holdings of The Library Company of Philadelphia, founded by Benjamin Franklin. 

The letter is dated August 13, 1751. The quote in question, pictured here for you now, dear reader, reads thus: 

“I can tell you that I am as happy as perhaps the Creation can make me; I enjoy all the Necessaries & most of the Conveniences of Life; I have a peaceful study, as a refuge from the Hurries & Noise of the World around me; the venerable Dead are waiting in my Library to entertain me, & relieve me from the Nonsense of Surviving Mortals….In short, I have all a moderate Heart can wish; & I very much question if there be a more calm, placid & contented mortal in Virginia."

After years spent in search of the original words of Samuel Davies, this 21st century contented mortal in Virginia is pleased to share the picture with you showing the words in his own handwriting. May your library or study be a peaceful refuge as well. 

Davies, Samuel Quote.JPG

Have You Read the Letters of David Brainerd?

Among classic Christian writings are the letters of John Calvin (French Huguenot); Martin Luther (German Reformer); Samuel Rutherford (Scottish Covenanter); and Joseph Alleine (English Puritan). The letters of David Brainerd (1718-1747), American Presbyterian missionary to the Delaware Indians of New Jersey, are perhaps less well-known, but are equally devotionally precious. 

The life of this young man was cut short in the providence of God at the age of 29. It was in the house of Jonathan Edwards, Sr. that Brainerd died of tuberculosis, and it was Edwards who wrote the life of Brainerd based on his diary. This work, the most-reprinted work written by Edwards, was originally published in 1749 under the title An Account of the Life of the Late Rev. David Brainerd. In the genre of Christian biography, it remains a classic (reprinted under a variety titles). Of this work, Henry Martyn once wrote: "Oh! blessed be the memory of that beloved saint! No uninspired writer ever did me so much good." 

From here we have gleaned some extracts from Brainerd's letters (beginning at p. 261) which illustrate the experimental piety of this young man. They savor so sweetly of heaven that they seem sent from Immanuel's Land. Though his time in this vale of tears was short, he was conscious of the preciousness of time, possessing as he did a view of eternity, and made the most of the time given to him in order to answer his chief end, that is, to glorify God. And that was the view of time which he bequeathed to others. This is the counsel of one who tasted eternal bliss while on his earthly pilgrimage, and now sends word to us from heavenly places to be heavenly-minded.

Letter (II) to John Brainerd (Dec. 27, 1743):

I find nothing more conducive to a life of Christianity than a diligent, industrious, and faithful improvement of precious time.

Letter (III) to Israel Brainerd (Jan. 21, 1743/4):

Again, Be careful to make a good improvement of precious time. When you cease from labour, fill up your time in reading, meditation, and prayer: and while your hands are labouring, let your heart be employed, as much as possible, in divine thoughts.

Letter (IV) to a Special Friend (July 31, 1744):

Verily, no hours pass away with so much divine pleasure, as those that are spent in communing with God and our own hearts.

Letter (VI) to John Brainerd (Dec. 25, 1745):

My brother, "the time is short." Oh let us fill it up for God; let us "count the sufferings of this present time" as nothing, if we can but run our race, and finish our course with joy." Let us strive to live to God....I think I do not desire to live one minute for any thing that earth can afford. Oh that I could live for none but God, till my dying moment!

Letter (VII) to Israel Brainerd (Nov. 24, 1746):

Let me intreat you to keep eternity in view, and behave yourself as becomes one that must shortly "give an account of all things done in the body."

Letter (VIII) to Israel Brainerd (June 30, 1747):

It is from the sides of eternity I now address you....But let me tell you, my brother, eternity is another thing than we ordinarily take it to be in a healthful state. Oh how vast and boundless; how fixed and unalterable! Of what infinite importance is it, that we be prepared for eternity!

Letter (IX) to a Young Gentleman, a Candidate for the Ministry (Summer 1747):

How amazing it is that "the living who know that they must die," should notwithstanding put far away the evil day, in a season of health and prosperity; and live at such an awful distance from a familiarity with the grave, and the great concerns beyond it. Especially it may just fill us with surprise, that any whose minds have been divinely enlightened, to behold the important things of eternity as they are, I say, that such should live in this manner. And yet, Sir, how frequently is this the case. How rare are the instances of those who live and act, from day to day, as on the verge of eternity; striving to fill up all their remaining moments in the service and to the honour of the great Master. We insensibly trifle away time, while we seem to have enough of it; and are so strangely amused as in great measure to lose a sense of the holiness and blessed qualifications necessary to prepare us to be inhabitants of paradise. But oh, dear Sir, a dying bed, if we enjoy our reason clearly, will give another view of things.

The Monument of Francis Makemie

A poetic tribute from Henry Van Dyke, Jr. to the man who has been described as the "Father of American Presbyterianism," Francis Makemie, on the bicentennial anniversary of Makemie's death (The Poems of Henry Van Dyke, p. 165): 

THE MONUMENT OF FRANCIS MAKEMIE

(PRESBYTER OF CHRIST IN AMERICA, 1683-1708)

To thee, plain hero of a rugged race,
We bring the meed of praise too long delayed!
Thy fearless word and faithful work have made
For God's Republic firmer resting-place
In this New World: for thou hast preached the grace
And power of Christ in many a forest glade,
Teaching the truth that leaves men unafraid
Of frowning tyranny or death s dark face.

Oh, who can tell how much we owe to thee,
Makemie, and to labour such as thine,
For all that makes America the shrine
Of faith untrammelled and of conscience free?
Stand here, grey stone, and consecrate the sod
Where rests this brave Scotch-Irish man of God!

April, 1908

They Seek a Country

The list of secondary sources assembled on our bookstore page is growing! One that merits a particular "shout-out" is a 1955 volume edited by Gaius Jackson Slosser (1887-1968) titled They Seek a Country: The American Presbyterians

This book is less than 350 pages, but is packed full of valuable information which scholars have often referenced since 1955. It is a remarkable book in many ways. It does not claim to cover all aspects of American Presbyterianism (the Cumberland Presbyterians are not discussed, for example, see p. vii). But the wealth of anecdotes, illustrations, and useful information makes this a great value for the student of church history on a budget (current best price on Amazon: $6.50, plus shipping). 

This book is a compilation of essays contributed by some of the greatest Presbyterian church historians of the 20th century. The table of contents reads thus: 

  • I. Origins by Gaius Jackson Slosser, Professor of Ecclesiastical History and History of Doctrine, Western Theological Seminary, Pittsburgh, PA;
  • II. Beginnings in the North by William W. McKinney, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Ambridge, PA; 
  • III. Beginnings in the South by Ernest Trice Thompson, Professor of Church History, Union Theological Seminary, Richmond, VA; 
  • IV. The United Presbyterian Church by John H. Gerstner, Jr., Professor of Church History, Pittsburgh-Xenia Theological Seminary;
  • V. The Reformed Presbyterian Church in America by David M. Carson, Professor of History, Geneva College; 
  • VI. The Founding of Educational Institutions by William Warren Sweet, Professor Emeritus of American Church History, University of Chicago Theological Seminary; 
  • VII. Service in Founding and Preserving the Nation by H. Gordon Donald, Pastor, Bellefield Presbyterian Church, PIttsburgh, PA; 
  • VIII. Missionary Expansion at Home by Clifford M. Drury, Professor of Church History, San Francisco Theological Seminary;
  • IX. Serving Overseas by Kenneth Scott Latourette, Professor Emeritus of Missions and Oriental History, Yale Divinity School;
  • X. Wrestling With Human Values: The Slavery Years by Edward Burgett Welsh, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, New Concord, OH;
  • XI. Events and Trends - Early Nineteenth Century by James Hastings Nichols, Professor of Church History, University of Chicago Theological Seminary;
  • XII. Some Trends and Events Since 1869 by Lefferts A. Loetscher, Professor of American Church History, Princeton Theological Seminary; and 
  • XIII. Today and Tomorrow: The Road Ahead by Gladys Schmitt, Professor of English, Carnegie Institute of Technology; Frank H. Caldwell, President, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary; and John A. Mackay, President, President, Princeton Theological Seminary.

    Also included is a "Who's Who" of American Presbyterianism; an appendix listing all of the Presbyterian educational institutions founded in America or, internationally, by Americans; useful endnotes; and two fold-out diagrams by Slosser illustrating the splits within both Scottish and American Presbyterianism. 

    This is a wonderful resource for both the pastor-scholar and the lay student of church history. We recommend that you add it to your library, and you can do so by ordering it through our bookstore page. Be sure to check out our expanded list of additional secondary resources there, and the works published by Log College Press, as well! 

How are the Nations to be Subdued to the Obedience of Faith?

By whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name:...But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith...." -- The Apostle Paul, Romans 1:5, 16:26

In an 1822 sermon delivered before the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions in New Haven, Connecticut, Alexander Proudfit, Associate Reformed minister, explained what is the key to the success of worldwide missionary endeavors. The sermon was titled The Universal Extension of Messiah's Kingdom, and throughout, he emphasizes the promises of God for the success of this endeavor through the means appointed. And the key means that God has appointed for the Great Commission is, simply put, faithful preaching.

"But there is another and still more powerful means, by which the Gospel is to be diffused among the nations; -- the preaching of the word of reconciliation. The Scriptures, translated and distributed, will probably remain a dead letter, unless accompanied with the ministrations of the living teacher. Far be it from me to detract from the importance of Bible Societies, or to utter a remark, which might tend to relax the exertions of those who are engaged in the honorable work of diffusing the Scriptures. Let associations of this character be formed; let copies of the sacred volume be multiplied; let them be dispersed through every country; let them be conveyed into every house, and placed on the shelf of every habitation of mankind. Let all this be done with a zeal answerable to the unutterable importance of the work; yet I venture to assert, that it is by the preaching of men, enlightened, ardent, self-denied, disinterested men; by the preaching of such in a pre-eminent degree, that the nations are ultimately to be subdued to the obedience of faith" (p. 15). 

Happy Birthday to A.A. Hodge!

In the village of Princeton, New Jersey, a child was born on July 18, 1823 to parents Charles and Sarah Hodge by the name of Archibald Alexander Hodge. This child would grow up to become a missionary in India, a pastor who ministered in three states, a professor at two seminaries, and a vice-president of the National Reform Association. He authored many books and articles, and his "table talk" is recorded for us by a student of his as well. 

A.A. Hodge wrote a full-length biography of his father, Charles, but no such full-length story of his life has been written for him. Nevertheless, the biographical sketches we have of him from the hands of Charles Adamson Salmond, Francis Landey Patton and William Miller Paxton (see James M. Garretson, Pastor-Teachers of Old Princeton) speak to his greatness in deed and thought. Paxton wrote "that six things constituted the man: He was a Christian, a philosopher, a theologian, an orator, a poet, and a child." Such was the genius of the man, such was his child-like faith and prayers, such was his poetic skill with words, such was his Christ-centered existence. "The centre of all his religious experience was Christ. He worshipped Christ, he believed in Jesus Christ the Son of the living God. He loved Christ, he served Christ, the fixed purpose of his life was to glorify Christ, and all his hope for the future was to be with Christ and to be like him. Christ was 'formed in him the hope of glory.'" 

Among his valuable writings, we have Outlines in Theology, developed during his pastorate at Fredericksburg, Virginia; a commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith, inspired by a class taught by ruling elder E.P. Durant; a commentary on the first half of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, completed by J. Aspinwall Hodge; Popular Lectures on Evangelical Themes, later republished under the title Evangelical Theology: Lectures on Doctrine, with an introduction by C.A. Salmond and including the biographical sketch of F.L. Patton; a biography of his father, along with a study of his father's Systematic Theology; a precious tract on the Lord's Day (take note of his remarks on the Lord's Day in his "table talk" too); and so much more. 

Recently, this writer had occasion to stand at the grave of A.A. Hodge at the Princeton Cemetery. He wrote and spoke often about death and heaven and eternal life. Though he is gone, he lives, by the work and power of his Redeemer, and we thus remember a great man today. 

Introducing Samuel Irenaeus Prime

Here is a man that is worth getting to know, if you have not already become acquainted. The Presbyterian minister Samuel Irenaeus Prime was born in Ballston, New York in 1812. The older brother of William Cowper Prime, he graduated from Williams College in Massachusetts, and later studied at Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey. He was ordained to serve as a pastor in Ballston Spa, New York, in 1835. He later served as the principal of Newburgh Academy, New York, and also for many years as the editor of The New York Observer

As a result of poor health, he focused his energies on writing, and besides his duties as a newspaper editor, for which he was greatly esteemed, he wrote a number of valuable works. 

He wrote about his travels in Europe and Russia; he wrote about the great revival in New York City during 1857-1858 (with contributing chapters by William S. Plumer, and others); he wrote biographies of the inventor of the telegraph, Samuel F.B. Morse, and others; he wrote pastorally to console parents who have lost a child; he wrote about what it means to "walk with God"; he published two volumes of his correspondence, and, with the editorial assistance of his son, an autobiography. And he wrote much about prayer, and its rewards. 

Take time to read writings of Samuel I. Prime. They are not so well known today (Banner of Truth republished his volume on the New York City Revival), but they contain valuable insights and much spiritual encouragement. May this introduction to the man and his writings be a blessing to you. 

 

Letters of Gold for the Presbyterian Ministry

In the concluding chapter of The Westminster Symbols: A Commentary Historical, Doctrinal, Practical on the Confession of Faith and Catechisms and the Related Formularies of the Presbyterian Churches (1900), Edward Dafydd Morris gives an overview of the Westminster Assembly and its work. He further concludes his magnum opus (p. 840) with a quote from the Westminster Directory of Public Worship that is worthy of remembrance. 

"The original Directory for Worship, springing from the heart as well as brain of the Assembly, happily describes that attitude in language which might well be written in letters of gold for the guidance of the Presbyterian ministry in all lands and times:

It is presupposed that the minister of Christ is in some good measure gifted for so weighty a service, by his skill in the original languages, and in such arts and sciences as are handmaids unto divinity; by his knowledge in the whole body of theology, but most of all in the holy Scriptures; having his senses and heart exercised in them above the common sort of believers; and by the illumination of the Spirit of God, and other gifts of edification which (together with reading and studying of the Word) he ought still to seek by prayer and an humble heart, —resolving to admit and receive any truth not yet attained, whenever God shall make it known unto him."

The Explanation of the Psalm

The current Directory of Public Worship of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA) alludes to a long-standing custom to be found within Covenanter worship services: the explanation of the psalm to be sung.

"10. The Psalms have a depth of meaning and beauty that will repay the most careful study. It is vitally important that the congregation understand what is sung. Therefore, it is helpful for the elders to make brief comments on the Psalms sung. It is particularly helpful if one of the Psalms is selected for a more substantial, succinct explanation by an elder before it is sung. Attention should be given to how the Psalm reveals the work of Christ and the blessings of the New Covenant."

Robert J. George devoted several pages to this topic in the first volume of his Lectures in Pastoral Theology (1911), pp. 117-124. The first portion of his remarks is reproduced here for consideration. 

"LECTURE XII

THE EXPLANATION OF THE PSALM

The explanation of the Psalm to be sung at the opening of the Sabbath morning service is a long established custom in the Covenanter Church. Formerly other Presbyterian churches had the same practice. Now it is scarcely known except in the two Covenanter bodies. In regard to this service let us observe —

I

The Importance of the Explanation of the Psalm.

I. It is essential to the intelligent use of the Psalms.

The Psalms need to be expounded. They cannot be seen in all their beauty, or felt in the fullness of their power without explanation. While their truths are adapted to all times, many of them are set forth in the imagery and phraseology of a former dispensation — which need to be unfolded to reveal their spiritual import.

Not only do they need to be explained, but they will bear explanation. In this they differ from hymns of human production. Dr. James Kennedy was accustomed to tell of an old Scotch minister who in his native land was used to explaining the Psalm. Removing to this country and finding the hymns in use, he undertook to explain a hymn. After several unsatisfactory efforts to expand the thought he closed the service in disgust, saying: 'Brethren, I can take naething oot o' that, for there's naething in it.' But the Psalms of the Bible are wells of salvation out of which we may draw water with joy, and the well is deep.

2. The explanation of the Psalm is a beautiful and appropriate introduction to the services.

The Book of Psalms is the devotional book of the Bible. It is eminently fitting that assembled worshipers should turn at once to a lesson from the Divine Word. And what could be more reasonable or natural than to find that morning lesson in the devotional book. And this is what many do, even of those who do not employ the Psalms for praise. A Presbyterian minister recently said to me: 'I always take my morning lesson from the Psalms.' This is very suggestive.

Young gentlemen: Instead of regarding the practice of Explaining the Psalm as an old-fashioned, antiquated custom to be borne with only until it can be gotten rid of, we should recognize in it a beautiful and helpful service which places our church in the foremost rank of those who are striving to restore the word of God to its true and commanding position in the services of His house, and which should inspire us with a purpose to advance this part of our public worship to the highest possible perfection.

3. It is, in itself, a delightful service.

(1) It must be so from the character of the Book of Psalms.

I will quote one or two testimonies on this point. Athanasius writes: —

'They appear to me a mirror of the soul of every one who sings them. They enable him to perceive his own emotions, and to express them in the words of the Psalms. He who hears them read receives them as if they were spoken to him. We cannot conceive of anything richer than the Book of Psalms. If you need penitence; if anguish or temptation have befallen you; if you have escaped persecution or oppression, or are immersed in deep affliction; concerning each and all you may find instruction and state it to God in the words of the Psalter.' 

Ambrose says: ''The law instructs, history informs, prophecy predicts, correction censures, and morals exhort. But in the Book of Psalms you find the fruit of all these as well as a remedy for the salvation of the soul. The Psalter deserves to be called the praise of God, the glory of man, the voice of the church, and the most beneficial confession of faith. In the Psalms delight and instruction vie with one another. We read for instruction and sing for enjoyment.' 

Many such eulogies have been pronounced upon this book by the most eminent and saintly men of all ages. It cannot be otherwise than a delightful service that brings forth the rich treasures of this book for the devotional exercises of God's people on the Sabbath morning.

(2) This is the testimony of our people.

The most spiritual members of a congregation will often say that the explanation of the Psalm is to them the most uplifting service of the day. So unanimous is the testimony of good people to the delight they have found in the service that when it is otherwise there must be a fault either in the manner of explanation, or in the complaining hearer.

(3) This is the testimony of outsiders.

By these I mean attendants from sister churches which do not use or do not explain the Psalms. They frequently speak of this as a unique, striking, profitable, and even beautiful service.

Young gentlemen: Let me urge you to exalt in your minds the claims of this service and to devote to it your best gifts — let the entrance to the temple of worship be by the 'Gate that is called Beautiful,' so that on the very threshold, the worshipers will be reminded that it is God's house, and that God Himself is within."

Pastor George wrote further on this topic regarding "What Should Be the Character of This Explanation?" and "Suggestions As to Methods." His counsel to pastors who perform this function in the worship service includes recommended commentaries on the Psalms; suggested time limits on the explanation of the Psalm to be sung; the devotional character of the explanation; and encouragement to center the focus of the explanation of the Psalm on the Person of Christ. 

The exclusive place of the Psalms in Covenanter worship is well known. The explanation of the Psalms to be sung is perhaps less so. But it is worth taking a look at Pastor George's guidance on this point to better appreciate the importance Covenanters place on singing with understanding ("For God is the King of all the earth: sing ye praises with understanding," Ps. 47:7). 

Happy Birthday to John Calvin!

The man who contributed so much to American Presbyterianism from his exiled home by Lake Geneva, Switzerland, the French Huguenot pastor John Calvin, was born on July 10, 1509. He was the man who first sent Protestant missionaries to the New World (France Antarctique, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1557), and it was his compatriot French Huguenots who settled the first Protestant colonies in America in Parris Island, South Carolina (1562) and Fort Caroline, Florida (1564) - all of three of which colonies were planted by the French Calvinist Admiral Gaspard Coligny. From these early settlements to the Pilgrims' Plimoth Plantation to Jamestown, Virginia, to the War of 1776, the man who influence did so much to establish the American colonies and republic was John Calvin. 

We give tribute to the man and his legacy with a list of resources on our site about this hero of the faith. 

Take a look at these resources as we remember the birthday of a man raised up by God who did so much to further the kingdom of God in Europe, America and around the world. 

Spiritual Improvement on a Journey Homeward

"There is no object that we see; no action that we do; no good that we enjoy; no evil that we feel, or fear, but we may make some spiritual advantage of all: and he that makes such improvement is wise, as well as pious" (American Puritan poet Anne Bradstreet, Meditations Divine and Moral I).

From English Anglican Bishop Joseph Hall's Occasional Meditations (1630) to English Puritan John Flavel's Husbandry spiritualized, or, The Heavenly Use of Earthly Things (1674) to Anne Bradstreet's Meditations, we have examples of devotional literature wherein the pious writer takes note of ordinary or extraordinary things around him or her and with meditation finds spiritual application and benefit. 

One such example from the literature of American Presbyterianism comes from the Journal of Samuel Davies. In 1753, he left Virginia to visit England and Scotland. That is when his Journal begins. He often took note of the wind, waves and weather around him as he sailed, and sometimes inspired his poetry, but it was not until he was almost back home, off the coast of North Carolina, in 1755, that he really began to takes notes on what he saw for purposes of spiritual meditation and improvement (George William Pilcher, ed., The Reverend Samuel Davies Abroad: The Diary of a Journey to England and Scotland, 1753-55). 

"Wednesd. Feb. 12. Blessed be God, we had the wellcome [sic] Sight of Land this Morning; and suppose we are on the Coast of N. Carolina, about 20 Leagues S. of Cape Henry. The Wind is contrary; and if a Storm should rise, we might be driven out to Sea again. 

Since my last Remarks, we have had strong Gales and violent Storms of Snow, with violent intense Cold. It has been so cloudy; that we have had no good Observations of 9 Days; and our Reckoning for Longitude being out [editorial note: John Harrison's marine chronometer was not invented until 1761], we knew not where we were. We have been expecting Land, and sounding for Ground, these 14 Days, but were still disappointed 'till this Morning. If the Longitude, which has been so long sought for in vain, could be certainly discovered, it would be vastly to the Advantage of Navigation. 

Tho' my Mind has been in such a confusion, during the Passage, that I have not been able to make any useful Remarks to any Advantage; yet the various Phenomenon of the Ocean have suggested to me such Hints as might be well improved by a spiritual Meditant. And I shall take short Memorandum of them that if I should happen to be disposed for it hereafter, I may improve upon them. 

The majestic Appearance of this vast Collection of Waters, may suggest to use -- the Majesty -- and Power of God, the Author -- and his uncontroulable Government who rules so outragious an Element as he pleases, and stills it with one almighty Mandate, 'Peace, be still,' -- and the Terror of the Conflagration which shall dry it up. 

The alternate Storms and Calms are a picture of the Mutability of human Life on this World -- of the various Frames of a Xn.

As Storms and Hurricanes purifie the Sea, and keep it from corrupting; so Afflications are necessary to purge and sanctifie the People of God, and shall work together for their Good. And so God brings Good out of Evil. 

It is calm in some Parts of the Ocean, while it is tempestous [sic] in others. So, particular Persons -- and Countries, are alternately happy and miserable. 

The Sea in the Ferment of a Storm gives us an Image -- of a Mind agitated with furious Lusts and Passions -- and a riotous Mobb. 

The Ship is our only Safety. So is Xt. to the Souls amid the Ruins of Sin. 

After a Storm and a gloomy Night, how wellcome and chearing is the Return of a Calm, and a the Morning Light! So is the Return of Peace and the Light of God's Countenance to a Soul in Darkness and Distress. 

The Want of an Observation to discover the Latitude, in cloudy Weather, leaves the Mariner perplexed about his Course. Thus perplexed is the Xn. when God withdraws the Light of his Countenance, or when the Meaning of the Scripture is uncertain. 

It is a great Disadvantage to Navigation, and occasions the Loss of many Ships, that the Longitude is not discovered. Thus would it have been, with the moral [sic?] World, if it had not been favoured with the Light of Revelation; and thus is the heathen Part of Mankind at a Loss about the Way to Heaven. 

After a long and dangerous Voyage, how eager are the Seamen looking out for Land; and how rejoiced at the Sight of it! Thus eager are some Xns and thus eager should they all be, to see Immanuel's Land, and arrive there. 

It is a striking Evidence of the Degeneracy of human Nature, that those who traverse this Region of Wonders, who see so many Dangers and Deliverances, are generally tho'tless, vicious and impenitent. 

Such Remarks as these, decorated with lively Images and good Langue, would be both useful and entertaining." 

It was the next day that Samuel Davies arrived in Yorktown, Virginia, and two days following he returned home to his dear wife. 

Pictured: Winslow Homer, Northeaster (1895).

Improvement of Time

Philip Lindsley (1786-1855) was a minister and educator who served as acting president of the College of New Jersey (Princeton), 1822-1824; and as the first president of the University of Nashville, Tennessee (1824-1850). 

His Works in three volumes (comprising of Educational Discourses, Sermons and Religious Discourses, and Miscellaneous Discourses and Essays) are filled with much wisdom and piety on topics that include (in Vol. 2 alone) Sabbath-keeping, self-examination, the necessity of a learned ministry, the pastoral office, evangelical repentance, and more. 

Towards the end of 1822, Lindsley gave two discourses at the chapel of the College of New Jersey on the subject of the improvement of time. These discourses were delivered just after a student had passed away the previous month (whose eulogy was given by Archibald Alexander), and another, the previous February, which were rare events at the College. 

Lindsley took occasion to encourage his students on the first Sabbath of December, 1822, on the basis of Psalm 90:12 ("So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom"), to consider the brevity of life, and the need for sobriety and industry, and to be content to "use the world, but abuse it not." He also reminded them to remember to seek first the kingdom of God, and that this life is preparation for the next. 

His next discourse, given on the last Sabbath of December, 1822, and taken from Eph. 5:16 ("Redeeming the time"), reminded his students of the value of time - once lost, it is not to be found again, an appropriate theme for the end of one year and the beginning of another. The opposite of redeeming the time is wasting time. This he warned his hearers against, and preached equally to himself: "We have all erred in this matter. There is not an individual in this house; —there is not a child of Adam on earth who has not abused time. Nay more, there is not a day in which the best of men, when they review, at evening, their conduct during the day, do not find abundant cause of humiliation and repentance before God for their unfruitfulness, their sloth, or their forgetfulness of Him who has solemnly charged them to occupy till he come." 

He then proceeded to direct his students on how to improve the time given to them - in a word, or two, to make religion the "every-day work" of the Christian. Also, to acquire knowledge in the service of God. As students, this was their present business. To them, he said: "Time is the talent committed to you to improve to the very utmost of your ability, according to the opportunities and advantages enjoyed." While giving general guidance about how to study aright, he pointed his hearers first and foremost to the study of the Bible, the class book of the College, and "the richest treasure ever bestowed by heaven on man. The Bible — inestimable, inexhaustible fountain of truth, and wisdom, and purity, and consolation!" There is a lesson here for all of us that is timeless, but requires us to take time to heed it. 

Happy Birthday to Ashbel Green!

It was on July 6, 1762, that a "prince in Israel" was born. Ashbel Green lived a remarkable life (and wrote a fascinating autobiography) which is too much to sum up in blog post. But among the highlights: 

  • He served as a sergeant in the New Jersey Militia during the American War of Independence;
  • studied under John Witherspoon, and graduated valedictorian (1783) at the College of New Jersey; 
  • served as Tutor (1783-1785) and Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy (1785-1787) at the College of New Jersey;
  • served as associate pastor (1786-1793) and head pastor (1793-1812) of the Second Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia;
  • served as Chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives (1792-1800);
  • advocated for the establishment of what became Princeton Theological Seminary, and served as President of its Board;
  • served as President of the College of New Jersey (Princeton) (1812-1822);
  • served as President of the Bible Society of Philadelphia (Pennsylvania Bible Society);
  • was President of the PCUSA Board of Missions; and
  • was the editor of The Christian Advocate.

When he preparing to assume the office of President of the College of New Jersey, he took time to pray and wrote down a set of personal resolutions that are worthy to consider as we remember his life (these are extracted from his autobiography, pp. 342-344). 

"November 16th, 1812. Having set apart this day for special prayer to God, in view of the duties on which I am entering as President of the College, I have thought it might be useful to me to commit some of my thoughts and resolutions to writing, that I may the more fully recollect and review them hereafter. I have entered on the station which I now occupy, with a deep sense of my insufficiency and unpreparedness for it. I have accepted of it (if I know myself) because I thought the call in providence was such that I should resist my duty if I refused it; and on the other hand, that if I accepted, I might hope that with all my incompetency, God might please to use me for some good. If he shall, all the glory will of course belong to himself; and I am at all times to guard my treacherous heart against taking any of it to myself: and if he shall not, I am resigned to his sovereign and holy appointment, knowing that his ways are sometimes inscrutable, but always right. The following resolutions appear to me proper at present, but I make them not as immutable, but only as my guide till I shall be deliberately convinced in regard to any of them that they are improper. The most of them I am perfectly satisfied that I never ought to change; and these may the God of all grace enable me to fulfil. 

Resolved, 1st. To consider myself as devoted to the service of the College for the remainder of my days, or till I shall leave the station which I now occupy. I am not to seek ease, or wealth, or fame, as my chief object. I am to endeavour to be a father to the institution. I am to endeavour to the utmost to promote all its interests as a father does, in what relates to his children and property. 

2d. To pray for the institution as I do for my family, that God may enable me to do my duty in it, prosper all its concerns, and especially that he may pour out his Spirit upon it, and make it what its pious founders intended it to be. 

3d. To watch against the declension of religion in my own soul, to which I may be more exposed than when I was the pastor of a congregation, and to which the pursuits of science themselves may prove a temptation. 

4th. To endeavour to acquire the true spirit of my station - a spirit of humble fortitude and firmness, of dignity and meekness, of decision and caution, of prudence and promptness, of courtesy and reserve, of piety unfeigned, with a suitable regard to the manners and opinions of the world. 

5th. To avoid anger and irritation. 

6th. To avoid the extremes of talkativeness and silence in company. 

7th. To endeavour to avoid all hurry, and to be always self-possessed. 

8th. Not to speak hastily on any subject - not on a subject of science before my pupils, lest a mistake should injure me or them. 

9th. To endeavour that my own family be exemplary in all things. 

10th. To view every officer of the College as a younger brother, and every pupil as a child. 

11th. To treat the officers of the College with great attention and respect. 

12th. To treat the students with tenderness and freedom, but yet as never to permit them to treat me with familiarity, or to lose their respect for me. 

13th. To be much employed in devising something for the improvement of the institution, or the advancement of its interests; but to avoid hasty and fanciful innovations of every kind. 

14th. In all cases of discipline to act with great coolness, caution, and deliberation; and having done this, to fear no consequences, nor to trouble myself much about them. 

15th. Having done my duty, to indulge no anxiety in regard to what may follow from it, at any time or in any way. This is to be left to God." 

A Gem From Charles Hodge

Just as the Apostle Paul speaks of a distinction between "godly sorrow" and "sorrow of the world" (2 Cor. 7:10), so a distinction can be made between Christian humility and secular or worldly humility. The latter is often portrayed as a virtue that characterizes the good man considered in himself; the former acknowledges the good gifts in a believer in a manner which exalts the grace of God, as Paul does in 1 Cor. 15:10, when he says "...but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me." 

Charles Hodge in his Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 318, helps to flesh out the reality of our cooperation with the grace of God and how that squares with the principles that all good in us is to be ascribed wholly to the grace of God: "Yet not I, i.e. the fact that I laboured so abundantly is not to be referred to me; I was not the labourer — but the grace which was with me....In the one case grace is represented as co-operating with the apostle; in the other, the apostle loses sight of himself entirely, and ascribes every thing to grace. 'It was not I, but the grace of God.' Theologically, there is no difference in these different modes of statement.... True, he did co-operate with the grace of God, but this co-operation was due to grace — so that with the strictest propriety he could say, 'Not I, but the grace of God.'"

Hodge further gives us a definition (p. 317) that is worthy to meditate upon: "Christian humility does not consist in denying what there is of good in us; but in an abiding sense of ill-desert, and in the consciousness that what we have of good is due to the grace of God."

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.