Saturday, July 22, 2017

July 22: Richard Cameron [1647-1680]

by archivist
Man knows not his time. So too for Richard Cameron, that noble Scottish minister, who died at Ayrsmoss on this day July 22, 1680.

The Lion of the Covenantby Rev. David T. Myers
To our readers who have been ordained into a church office, or who have had the privilege of attending the ordination of someone else who has been set apart to the biblical office in a local church, I dare say none of us have ever had the following experience happen to us. But in the Presbyterian history of ages past, it did happen to one young man, who was at that time living in Holland. After the laying on of the hands, setting him apart for the office of minister, all but one of the Dutch ministers took their hands off of his head. That sole minister who kept his hands on Richard Cameron’s head, uttered a prophetic sentence, saying, “here is the head of a faithful minister and servant of Jesus Christ, who shall lose the same for his Master’s interest, and it shall be set up before sun and moon in the public view of the world.”
Our focus today in Presbyterian history is Richard Cameron. Born in 1647 in Scotland to a Christian merchant by the name of Alan Cameron, Richard was the oldest of four children. After his university exercises at St. Andrews, he still was not a Christian. Attending a service held by one of the field preachers, he heard the blessed gospel and regeneration occurred in his heart and mind. One year later, he was licensed to preach the Word with strong evidence of his calling beginning to manifest itself in his gifts. Jock Purves in his book Fair Sunshine, said that his sermons “were full of the warm welcoming love of the Lord Jesus Christ for poor helpless sinners.” (p. 44) But in addition to the proclamation of the blessed gospel, there were also strong denunciations of the persecuting government authorities which made such field preaching necessary. Despite the danger to both himself and his gathered congregation, Cameron continued to faithfully, fearlessly proclaim the Word of God.
airds_moss_memorialJust a month before his demise at the hands of the authorities, Richard Cameron had set the issue plain before the whole nation by the posting of the Sanquhar Declaration on June 22, 1680. Now a month after that bold challenge to the government of the kingdom, the latter’s military forces caught up with Richard Cameron and his followers at Ayrsmoss on July 22, 1680.
The battle was preceded by Cameron three times praying “spare the green, and take the ripe.” Looking to his younger brother Michael, who was with him on that occasion, Richard said “Come Michael, let us fight it out to the last; for this is the day that I have longed for, to die fighting against our Lord’s avowed enemies; and this is the day that we shall get the crown.” And he did, along with many others. The monument to their sacrifice is pictured at right.
Oh yes, Richard Cameron’s head and hands were cut off by the British dragoons, to be taken to the city of Edinburgh. But before they were placed on stakes in front of the prison, they were taken to his father Alan who was in prison. He kissed them, saying, “I know them, I know them. They are my son’s, my own dear son. It is the Lord. Good is the will of the Lord, Who cannot wrong me nor mine, but has made goodness and mercy to follow us all our days.”
Words to Live By:
When all your mercies, O my God, my rising soul surveys,
transported with the view, I’m lost in wonder, love, and praise.
Unnumbered comforts to my soul your tender care bestowed,
before my infant heart conceived from whom those comforts flowed.
When worn with sickness, oft have you with health renewed my face;
and when in sins and sorrows sunk, revived my soul with grace.
Ten thousand thousand precious gifts my daily thanks employ;
nor is the least a cheerful heart that tastes those gifts with joy.
Through every period of my life your goodness I’ll pursue;
and after death, in distant worlds, the glorious theme renew.
Through all eternity to you a joyful song I’ll raise;
for oh, eternity’s too short to utter all your praise.

“Dedication’s what you need if you want to be Covenant breaker”

by ealinglevy
I like David Robertson, he's a Mr Valiant for Truth and I absolutely love his work amongst Atheists. He's also a controversialist which I particularly enjoy. There are times though when I slightly despair of some of his material.
The latest piece that has got on my goat is his piece on why he does Baby Dedications at St Peter's, Dundee. It's been lauded by the FIEC as a piece of generosity by a paedo Baptist, my fear would be that David is selling the farm from us.
It would seem to me that David is conceding to the supposed demands of the religious market-place (give the customer what he wants). David and his preaching teams are very able men and I rejoice in the growth that St Pete's has known in Dundee, because of the quality of the ministry I am sure that many believers of all sorts of ecclesiastical persuasions are coming to the church. This is a wonderful thing, however they are coming to a confessional Presbyterian Church. There is no mention of baby dedications in the confession, the public directory of worship makes no mention of such things.
From a Biblical perspective the Reformed position is that there are two sacraments commanded of believers, the Lord's Supper and Baptism. Baptism is to be administered to Believers and their children. It is a sign and seal of God's promises to us. In fact the Confession of Faith that both David and I subscribe to states that is a great sin to neglect this Ordinance (WCF28:5). The argument that is often made by Baptists is that they can't see Infant Baptism commanded in the Bible, the simple response surely must be where do we see Baby Dedications commanded?  I would want to argue John Murray's view that Infant baptism is not merely an option for Christian parents but a divine ordinance 'Put the sign of the spiritual covenant on the physical seed'.
Infant Baptism according to the Reformed perspective is about what God has done and the promises of God - 'I will be your God and you will be my people'. Baptism is not about my profession and what I am doing.. Baby Dedications put the emphasis in the opposite place, our 'human dedicating'. If we see Baptism as the covenant sign of entrance to the church, I'm not sure what sign Baby Dedication is a sign of, apart from wanting Baptists to feel welcome in the church.
The issue with doing both is you are saying the bible can mean either, surely the next time you are preaching on the subject you have undermined peoples confidence that the bible is clear is about your own confession of faith. If you take the approach this is one interpretation and feel free to disagree. To be consistent on this will mean on Spiritual gifts, complementarian/ egalitarian,   ... the issue here is not having folks in the church membership who have different views (this is good) but rather having those different views being exercised in corporate worship. Why not, logically, allow speaking in tongues or a woman preaching even if your own Confession of faith doesn't mandate it? Realistically in the next 5 years our churches will have people who apply to membership who would claim faith in Christ but have a different view on the bible's teaching on homosexuality and yet expect to be welcomed in. The role of a full confession of faith which we hold to and teach will be even more vital in the decades to come.
Our church membership is open all baptised believers in Jesus Christ, we have Baptists in our congregation of which I'm glad. I joke that I want Baptists to feel welcome but not comfortable! We are a Presbyterian Church as St Peter's  is and those who come to our congregation surely need to understand that. We can give thanks for their children, we view them as Covenant Children even though they do not have the sign but we long to see their parents coming to a Reformed understanding of the faith and bringing their children in obedience to be baptised.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Cremation Is Not Of Christian Origin

By William Childs Robinson
[excerpted from The Southern Presbyterian Journal 11.10 (9 July 1952): 6-7.]
This is not written to upset loved ones who may have inadvertently acted unwisely in this matter, nor to disturb soldiers who have seen the bodies of buddies destroyed in the horrors of war. Nor is it intended to put limits on the power of God. Certainly, the martyrs who were burned for the faith, are to be resurrected. But it is written to urge our people to conform to the faith and the practice of the Christian Church. An analogy to our position here may be found in that of baptism. God can save a believer without baptism as he saved the penitent thief; but that does not mean a believer is free to neglect or to substitute something else for the sacrament of God.
The forms, provided for burial in The Book of Church Order and in The Book of Common Worship, state that the graves of the saints are sanctified by Christ’s rest in the tomb. This thought is a fair summary of the teaching of the New Testament. Each of the Gospels tells of the burial of Jesus and that constitutes the background of Peter’s words in Acts 2:23-32. Some deny that Paul refers to the tomb of Christ, but a careful reading of the Greek in I Cor. 15:3-4, Romans 6:4 shows that the Apostle does have before him the entombment of the Saviour. Moreover, his thought is that we are entombed with Him. Christ is the head of the elect, our substitute and representative. What occurred to Him is to be, at least in part, parallelled by what occurs to us. Christ and His people belong together in death, entombment, and resurrection. 
While the Apostles’ Creed never speaks of the immortality of the soul it twice mentions the resurrection. And in the earliest commentary on the Creed, Rufinus insists that our resurrection will be after the manner of Christ’s Whose Resurrection opened the gates of life. The Gospels and Acts represent Jesus as eating and drinking with the disciples after His Resurrection. Luke records His command to them to handle Him; Matthew tells how the women took hold of His feet; John gives Jesus’ word to Mary .20:17) which many of the best scholars are now translating “Release Me,” “Cease clinging to Me.” First John says that our hands handled the Word of Life, apparently refer-
ring to Christ’s appearances as recorded in the Fourth Gospel. In speaking of the Spiritual body. Paul means not a ghost, but a real body controlled by the Spirit
—even as “a natural body” is in the Greek a psychical or psychologically controlled body.
In the second century, the Church held to this faith in the resurrection of the body against every effort of Gnosticism and Platonism to decode the faith into a mere survival of the soul. Ignatius records how Jesus came to those who were with Peter saying, “Lay hold, handle me, and see that I am not an incorporeal phantom.” Irenaeus insisted that God created earth as well as heaven, that the Word took a human body as well as a human reasonable soul, that Christ suffered in the flesh and rose in the body, and that there shall be a new earth as well as a new heaven.
Accordingly, the early Church followed the Jewish custom of burying the dead and rejected the pagan practice of cremation. The Bible gives no encouragement to cremation. The bodies of Saul and of his sons were outwardly burned to purify them from the defilement caused by days of hanging yet their bones were not destroyed but buried and re-interred later—I Sam. 31:11-13; I Chron. 10: 11-12; II Sam. 21:12-14. When the plague became so severe as to make burning necessary, the people were forbidden to make mention of the Name of the Lord, Amos 6:10.
The Roman persecutors tried to ridicule the Christian faith in the resurrection by burning the martyrs. In reply, John presents the souls of the martyrs living and reigning with Christ for a thousand years, Rev. 20:4. The martyrs who gave their bodies to be burned, thereby witnessed to their faith in Christ. When we die natural deaths, let us commend our bodies to loved ones to be placed in the grave in the posture of sleep, that they may witness to our blessed hope of rising to meet Christ Coming in His Glory. The bodies of believers, “being still united to Christ” and resting “in their graves till the Resurrection” bear testimony to Christ, to His Resurrection and to His Return.
We put no limits on the power of God. He is most free, most absolute, all-sufficient. But let us follow the faith and the custom He has given us in His Word and in the life and practice of the primitive Christian community.
—Wm.C.R.
[Three weeks later, Dr. Robinson’s wrote another brief article on this same topic, titled “Your Bodies Are Temples Of The Holy Ghost:
Another Word Against Cremation”
he Southern Presbyterian Journal 11.13 (30 July 1952): 4-5.]
In the six weeks since the former article commenting on cremation was written three times the matter has come into the writer’s purview. A very old father left instruction for his body to be cremated, and according to reports, the only son sorrowfully carried out the instructions. A middle-ages doctor passed with such instructions, but his widow disregarded them and the writer buried the body of the deceased. A phone call came to the Shenandoah Church asking that the supply pastor officiate at a funeral. The able secretary asked what was the deceased’s church connection. The reply was that the deceased had little, but some Roman Catholic attachment. Then it was added that this evidently was not strong as he wanted cremation which they did not do. The secretary replied : “Well, I don’t think Dr. Robbie will officiate for that, either.” He did not. Where this practice is developing, perhaps a wise pastor ought to arrange with such undertakers as do not cremate to give a funeral at a minimum charge to the needy, or else have a Church Burial Fund to help such.
After showing that the early Christians adopted the customs of the country when these did not clash with their own views, Lietzmann adds : “On the other hand, Christians unanimously repudiated cremation which was customary in the time of the early Empire in Rome.” Schaff writes : “The primitive Christians always showed a tender care for the dead ; under a vivid impression of the unbroken communion of saints and the future resurrection of the body in glory. For Christianity redeems the body as well as the soul and consecrates it a temple of the Holy Spirit. Hence the Greek and Roman custom of burning the corpse (crematio) was repugnant to Christian feeling and the sacredness of the body.”
When the pestilence raged in Carthage at the time of the persecution under Gallus, the heathen threw out their dead for fear of the contagion, and cursed the Christians as the supposed authors of the plague. But Cyprian assembled his congregation, and exhorted them to love their enemies. Whereupon all went to work, the rich with their money, the poor with their hands, and rested not until the dead were buried, the sick cared for, and the city saved from desolation.
Following the Jewish custom, the Christian washed the bodies of the dead, wrapped them in linen cloths, sometimes embalmed them, and then, in the presence of ministers, relatives and friends, with prayer and the singing of psalms, committed their deceased bodies as seeds of the Resurrection bodies to the bosom of the earth. Generally these burials were in sepulchral chambers with square-cornered recesses (loculi) in the walls as burial places. The corpses were wound in wrappings, without coffin, and the openings were closed with tiles of brick or marble. The Christian catacombs, as visible witnesses to the hope of the Resurrection, carried their weight with the Roman people. Indeed, even Julian the Apostate traced the rapid spread and power of Christianity to three causes : benevolence, care of the dead, and honesty.
The Christian custom was sustained by several texts from First and Second Corinthians. In opposing fornication, the Apostle wrote : “Know ye not that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, which is in you, which ye have from God? And ye are not your own ; for yet were bought with a price : glorify God therefore in your body.” In opposing inter-marriage with unbelievers he reminds the Christians : “What agreement hath a temple of god with idols? For ye are a temple of the living God.” In warning against dividing the congregation, he says : “Know ye not that ye are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man destroy the temple of God, him shall God destroy ; for the temple of God is holy, and such are ye.” In the great Resurrection chapter he finds an analogy between our sowing seed and having the seed sprout into a living body and our burying the dead body and looking for its resurrection in incorruption—glory—power—a SPIRITUAL body.
Brethren, weigh these several texts, before you exchange the Christian custom of burying or entombing the bodies that are temples of the Holy Ghost for a custom which primitive Christianity universally rejected. The graves of the saints are sanctified by Christ’s rest in the tomb; and the bodies of believers still united to Christ do rest in their graves until the resurrection.
–W.C.R.zz

Monday, July 17, 2017

Thomas Gray - a survey of graduates from English Universities

Reading Peter Hitchens, 'The Abolition of Britain from Churchill to Diana', I noted among the cultural changes he laments is the failure to teach the classics of our literature. I started asking graduates what did Thomas Gray mean to them The usual answer is one of ignorance even when I added the clue of 'Elegy in a Country Churchyard'. Four Cambridge graduates in their 20s or 30s, degrees in linguistics, theology, philosophy and engineering had no familiarity with Gray. The same was true of an Exeter graduate, 30s, geography and a Canterbury graduate, 40s in physiotherapy. So far my only positive response was from a Durham graduate in history , 40s age group. Hitchens is right. The poet who gave us, 'Far from the madding crowd' and 'the paths of glory lead but to the grave' is an unknown country to the cream of our graduates so far surveyed.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

O LOVE OF GOD, HOW STRONG AND TRUE

“Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God.” Romans 8:38-39

Words: Ho­ra­ti­us Bo­nar, 1861. This hymn was sung at the fun­er­al of Amer­i­can pre­si­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan.
Music: Brook­fieldThom­as B. South­gate, 1855 (MI­DIscore). Al­ter­nate tune:


O love of God, how strong and true!
Eternal, and yet ever new;
Uncomprehended and unbought,
Beyond all knowledge and all thought.
O love of God, how deep and great!
Far deeper than man’s deepest hate;
Self fed, self kindled, like the light,
Changeless, eternal, infinite.
O heavenly love, how precious still,
In days of weariness and ill,
In nights of pain and helplessness,
To heal, to comfort, and to bless!
O wide embracing, wondrous love!
We read thee in the sky above,
We read thee in the earth below,
In seas that swell, and streams that flow.
We read thee best in Him who came
To bear for us the cross of shame;
Sent by the Father from on high,
Our life to live, our death to die.
We read thy power to bless and save,
E’en in the darkness of the grave;
Still more in resurrection light,
We read the fullness of thy might.
O love of God, our shield and stay
Through all the perils of our way!
Eternal love, in thee we rest
Forever safe, forever blest.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Some Ealing History written in 1795

This is from Daniel Lysons, 'Ealing', in The Environs of London: Volume 2, County of Middlesex (London, 1795), pp. 223-240. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/london-environs/vol2/pp223-240

John Owen (who I am told lived in what is now Warwick Road -GW).

Dr. John Owen, the most voluminous and the most temperate writer among the dissenters of the last century, was for many years an inhabitant of Ealing, where he died August 24, 1683. He was elected member of parliament for the University of Oxford, though a divine ; was made dean of Christ-church by the independents ; and in 1652 was vice-chancellor of the university. "While he did undergo that office, (says Wood,) instead of being a grave example, he scorned all formality; undervalued his office by going in querpo like a young scholar, with powdered hair, snake-bone bandstrings, (or bandstrings with very large tassels,) lawn band, a large set of ribbands pointed at his knees, and Spanish-leather boots with large lawn tops, and his hat mostly cocked .”-

Parish church.

The old church at Ealing having fallen down on the 27th of March 1729, an act of parliament passed for rebuilding it, and a brief was obtained for that purpose; but it was near ten years before the new church was completed (fn. 37). It is a brick building, and forms an oblong square, of which the chancel occupies a certain portion ; at the west end is a square tower with a turret.

Vicars.

Robert Cooper, who had been collated to the vicarage of Ealing in 1638, was ejected by the puritans, and his place supplied by Daniel Carwarthen (fn. 50). Thomas Gilbert was presented in 1654, by Francis Allein, Esq. (fn. 51) who, I suppose, was then in possession of the manor. It happened, that upon the restoration, this Gilbert was the first person who was deprived of his benefice; on which account he desired that it might be inscribed upon his tomb, that he was the proto-martyr to the cause of non-conformity (fn. 52)  (emigrated to New Englan - GW). Cooper was reinstated in the vicarage of Ealing, which he enjoyed but a few months, being succeeded in the month of January 1660-1 by the learned William Beveridge, (afterwards Bishop of St. Asaph,) who continued there thirteen years (fn. 53).

Meeting-houses.

The Presbyterian diffenters have a chapel near Old Brentford, which was built in 1783. In an adjoining cemetery is the tomb of the Rev. Matthew Bradshaw, their late minister, who died in 1792. The average number of burials in this ground is not quite two in a year. The Anabaptists also have a meeting-house at Old Brentford, and there is a third for the people called Methodists.

Plague years.

In 1603 there were 136 burials, 29 of which were in the month of September. In 1665 there were 286, of which 244 were between the last of June and the first of January ensuing. Several of the persons who died of the plague were buried in the fields, particularly about Old Brentford.
Manor of Pits-hanger.

Gurnells

Sir Arthur Atye, who died in 1605, was seised of a manor, or manor-farm, in the parish of Ealing, called Pits-hanger, containing 140 acres (fn. 25). In 1690 this manor was the property of Margaret Edwards, widow (fn. 26), from whom it descended to Thomas Edwards, Esq. the ingenious author of the Canons of Criticism, who it is probable was her grandson. Mr. Edwards spent some of the early part of his life at Pits-hanger, but afterwards removed to an estate which he had purchased in Buckinghamshire (fn. 27). After his death, which happened in 1757, Pits-hanger was sold by his nephews, Joseph Paice, and Nathaniel Mason Esq. to King Gould, Esq. whose son, now Sir Charles Morgan, Bart. aliened it to Thomas Gurnell, Esq. Mrs. Peyton, relict of Jonathan Gurnell, Esq. and wife of John Peyton, Esq. is the present proprietor.The manor is in the bishop's own hands, and the courts are held by his steward. The royalties, or the right of fishing, hunting, &c. were leased to the late Jonathan Gurnell, Esq. and are now held under his representatives by Thomas Cheap, Esq.

The boys' charity-school in this parish. Jonathan Gurnell, jun. who died in 1752, gave 500l. to this school. Jonathan Gurnell, sen. who died in 1753, the same sum.
========================================================================

The Gurnell name lives on in the leisure centre.

In 1729 the old church (St Mary's) fell down bodily after more than six centuries of constant use ..... when the fund raising committee paid a courtesy call on Jonathan Gurnell, a wealthy Quaker landowner, they were surprised to be told, "Thee knows, friends, that I am not in the habit of giving money to build up steeple houses, but here's a hundred pounds to help thee take away the old one." Kate McEwan, Ealing Walkabout, 1983

So he was a benefactor who would have been a good diplomat if not disqualified by his nonconformity. He was a member of the Brentford Friends meeting until expelled for worldliness. -GW


=

George Gillespie [1613-1648]

by archivist
Our post today comes from a work concerning the Westminster Assembly, written by Dr. William S. Barker, and titled The Men and the Parties.

George Gillespie (Jan. 21, 1613 -  Dec. 16, 1648)

Like several others, the Scottish Commissioner George Gillespie also died toward the end of the Assembly's main work, in December of 1648, being only 35.  Although the youngest of the Westminster divines, he was one of the most influential in the debates concerning church government, arguing strenuously for Presbyterianism by divine right and for the church's right to exercise discipline.
Educated at the University of St. Andrew's, Gillespie subscribed the National Covenant in 1638 as minister of Wemyss in the Presbytery of Kirkcaldy.  That same year, only 25 years of age, he preached at the General Assembly in Glasgow.  He became a minister in Edinburgh in 1642.  In 1643 he was appointed one of the four Scottish ministers, along with Alexander Henderson, Samuel Rutherford, and Robert Baillie, to attend the Westminster Assembly as a result of the Solemn League and Covenant.
Legends have tended to develop around Gillespie's role at the Assembly, and while there is evidence to refute their accuracy, they nevertheless testify to the godly character of the Assembly and of Gillespie's contributions.  Although Gillespie had departed for Scotland when the Shorter Catechism was under discussion, one story has the Assembly stymied in its producing an answer to the question, "What is God?"  Supposedly Gillespie was called upon to pray, and he began, "O God, thou who art a spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in thy being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth...."
Another story makes vivid Gillespie's role in the debate with the Erastians over the power of excommunication.  The great classical scholar of the age, the learned John Selden, Member of Parliament as well as of the Assembly, gave an impressive speech, with display of rabbinical lore, "to demonstrate that Matthew 18:15-17, the passage under dispute, contained no warrant for ecclesiastical jurisdiction, but concerned the ordinary practice of the Jews in their common civil courts."  J. D. Douglas describes the situation:
Even the most erudite and able of the divines present were in no hurry to encounter such a formidable opponent.  Samuel Rutherford, the story goes, turned to Gillespie and said:  "Rise, George, rise up, man, and defend the right of the Lord Jesus Christ to govern by His own laws, the Church which He hath purchased with His own blood."  With every appearance of reluctance Gillespie rose, gave first a summary of the previous speech, stripping it of all its cumbrous learning and reducing it to simple language.  Then steadily, point by point, he completely refuted it, proving that the passage in question could not be interpreted or explained away to mean a mere reference to a civil court, and that the Jews both possessed and exercised the right of spiritual censures.  The effect of Gillespie's speech was so great as not only to convince the Assembly, but also to astonish and confound Selden himself, to whom Gillespie was a veritable enfant terrible.  The Erastian leader is reported to have exclaimed in bitter mortification:  "That young man, by this single speech, has swept away the learning and the labour of ten years of my life."[i]
What we do know is that Gillespie was a main respondent to Selden's speech, but it was on the next day and there were others who responded as well.  What perhaps  gives us a most accurate indication of Gillespie's ability and character is the account concerning one of his speeches, that he apparently was taking detailed notes of an opponent's address to which he was preparing to reply.  After he had responded most persuasively, those sitting next to him, upon looking in his notebook, found nothing of the speech written but only these expressions, in Latin:  "Lord, send light" -- "Lord, give assistance" -- "Lord, defend thine own cause."
Having returned from London, Gillespie was chosen Moderator of the General Assembly in Edinburgh on July 12, 1648.  He was assigned additional responsibilities, but soon fell ill and was clearly dying.  His older colleague Samuel Rutherford wrote from St. Andrew's on September 27, 1648:  "Be not heavy:  the life of faith is now called for; doing was never reckoned in your account; though Christ in and by you hath done more than by twenty, yea, an hundred gray-haired and godly pastors.  Believing now is your last.  Look to that word, Gal. ii. 20."[ii]  By December 17 Gillespie had died, but the work of the Westminster Assembly had been adopted by the Scottish Church to be passed on to its spiritual posterity.
Conclusion
Of Calvinism in general, but applicable also to this Puritan piety in particular, Beecher said:  'There never was a system since the world stood which put upon man such motives to holiness, or which builds batteries which sweep the whole ground of sin with such terrible artillery.'  As a matter of fact, wherever this system of truth has been embraced it has produced a noble and distinct type of character--a type so clearly marked that secular historians, with no religious bias, have recognized it, and pointed to it as a 'remarkable illustration of the power of religious training in the formation of character.'[iii]  The piety of these men is worth our attention.
Of the Confession of Faith as an accurate and vital compilation of Christian truth, Warfield contended, that as such, the WCF could not betray the influence of its composers, nor lack,
spiritual quality.  It is the product of intellect working only under the impulse of the heart, and must be a monument of the religious life.  This is true of all the great creedal statements, and pre-eminently true of the Westminster Standards.  Their authors were men of learning and philosophic grasp; but above all of piety.  Their interest was not in speculative construction, but in the protection of their flocks from deadly error. . . . In proportion as our own religious life flows in a deep and broad stream, in that proportion will we find spiritual delight in the Westminster Standards.[iv]
In our own day, we would do well to note the piety and humility of these participants as they expressed their inner longings in the wording of the Solemn League and Covenant: "... we profess ... our unfeigned [sincere] desire to be humbled for our own sins,... especially that we have not as we ought valued the inestimable benefit of the gospel; that we have not labored for the purity and power thereof; and that we have not endeavored to receive Christ in our hearts, nor to walk worthy of him in our lives; which are the cause of other sins and transgressions so much abounding amongst us; and our true and unfeigned purpose, desire, and endeavor for ourselves, and all others under our charge,... to amend our lives, and each one to go before another in the example of a real reformation; that the Lord may turn away his wrath and heavy indignation, and establish these churches and kingdoms in truth and peace."[v]
The genuine devotion of the membership of the Assembly is exemplified in the speech by Philip Nye, while urging adoption of the Solemn League and Covenant.  Exhorted Nye, as a prototype of the pathos and piety of this group:
I beseech you, let it be seriously considered, if you mean to do any such work in the house of God as this is; if you mean to pluck up what many years ago was planted, or to build up what so long ago was pulled down, and to go through with this work, and not be discouraged, you must beg of the Lord this excellent spirit, this resolute stirring spirit, otherwise you will be outspirited, and both you and your cause slighted and dishonored.[vi]
This exemplar of Puritan piety, in that delicate balance of spiritual maturity, also went on immediately to charge, "On the other hand, we must labor for humility, prudence, gentleness, meekness.  A man may be very much zealous and resolute, and yet very meek and merciful:  Jesus Christ was a Lion and yet a Lamb also."[vii]  Philip Nye concluded his exhortation to adopt the Solemn League in a fashion indicative of the divine's devotion:
Grant unto us also, that when this life is finished, and we gathered to our fathers, there may be a generation out of our loins to stand up in this cause, that his great, and reverend name may be exalted from one generation to another, until he himself shall come, and perfect all with his own wisdom: even so come Lord Jesus, come quickly. Amen.[viii]
The Assembly's frequent staple of spiritual devotion, fasting, is well-known.  On May 17, 1644 the Assembly adjourned a controversy to fast and pray for the needs of the nation and the army.  According to Baillie, the "sweetest day ever seen in England" saw the divines begin a day of prayer with Dr. Twisse leading, followed by two hours of prayers by Mr. Marshall, confessing the sins of the Assembly in a passionate, yet prudent manner.  Two hours!  The fast continued with preaching by John Arrowsmith, succeeded by another two hour prayer by Mr. Vines.  Another sermon was offered, and yet another two-hour prayer was offered by Mr. Seaman.  If we knew more about the prayer lives and fasting of these divines, appreciation for their spirituality might be higher until we surpass these in the practice of godliness. 
Those of us who have subscribed to and been guided by the Westminster Standards have had reason to thank God for their conveyance to us of the system of doctrine taught in the Scriptures and the biblical principles of government, discipline, and worship.  The lives of these members of the Assembly make us aware of the godliness and learning, the sacrifice and labor, the prayer and submission of all things to God's word, that produced, by God's grace, the Westminster Standards.  All glory, praise and thanks be to the Lord!  Having begun with a reference to Hebrews 11, let us conclude there as well:
All these people were still living by faith when they died.  They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.  And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth....- the world was not worthy of them.... These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised.  God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
Words to Live By:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Heb. 11:13, 38a, 39-40; 12:1-3)
Notes
[i]. J. D. Douglas, Light in the North (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1964), p. 41, citing Robert Wodrow, Analecta, 1834, III, 110.  Gillespie's biographer, Alexander Gordon, in the Dictionary of National Biography calls the statement ascribed to Selden "incredible."
[ii]. Reid, Memoirs, II, 282.
[iii]. Memorial Volume, pp. 261-262.
[iv]. Cited in Shedd, Calvinism: Pure and Mixed, p. 161.
[v]. A. W. Mitchell [1841], p. 38.
[vi]. Reid, 1982, p. 380.
[vii]. Reid, 1982, p. 380.
[viii]. Reid, 1982, p. 381.

Monday, July 10, 2017

July 10: Birth of John Calvin (1509)


by davidtmyers
The Virtual Founder of America
The German historian, Leopold von Ranke, was the one who declared that John Calvin was the virtual founder of America.
calvinJohn02Today, July 10, marks the birth of this Swiss Reformer, John Calvin, in the year 1509.  And yes, the usual focus of this blog is on American Presbyterians.  But Calvin’s influence pervades all of our history and our culture, so it is entirely appropriate that we should look at the man and his message.
Do we have any idea of how many Calvinists there were in our country up to the time of the American Revolution in 1776?  Loraine Boettner states that out of the three million citizens of the colonies at this pivotal time in our history, 900,000 were Scots-Irish Presbyterians, 600,600 were Puritan English, 400,000 were German or Dutch Reformed, and there were a lot of French Huguenots, who were Calvinists. Two-thirds of our citizens had been trained in the school of Calvin.
Calvin was the first Reformer to demand a complete separation between the church and the state. Note carefully what I  have just said.  It wasn’t a separation between God and the state, which is the commonly held interpretation today, but between the church and state. No one denomination was going to be the favored church of the government, as it was the case back in England. There would be freedom of religion. And that unique idea could be laid at the feet of John Calvin.
Next, our republic was to be looked upon as a representative republic.  In fact, if you look at the Presbyterian form of government, with its representative elders in the  congregation, we can see how the founding fathers of our Republic simply took a leaf out of the Presbyterian form of government.
Let’s enter next what has been called the Protestant work-ethic. Calvin held to the idea that every person’s calling can be characterized as a Christian calling, enabling them to serve God in every area of life. That has certainly helped our people work hard in their respective jobs, knowing that they are serving God in those jobs as well as that one who has been called to the pulpit to serve God.
Further, the Geneva Bible came to these shores by the pilgrim forefathers. This was the version whose footnotes were decidedly Calvinist.
For all these reasons, we honor John Calvin today.

Words to Live By: 
Today Calvinism is almost a dirty word. We need to reclaim its force in people’s lives and equally in our national life, if we desire to return to the greatness of our land. If you, reader, are largely ignorant of this Reformer and his place of influence in the early days of our people, make sure that you are not neglecting the Westminster Confession of Faith and catechism readings, which are a part of Calvin’s legacy. And delve into his Institutes of the Christian Religion, which will more than repay you in bringing Biblical theology into your faith and life.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Irina Ratushinskaya's obituary from The Times today. .

ISoviet-era poet, dissident and gulag survivor.
She had been beaten, given virtually no medical treatment for her worsening blood pressure, heart problems and kidney disease, and endured rotten cabbage and bitter cold in a labour camp 300 miles east of Moscow. “Hair starts falling out, your skin gets loose,” recalled Irina Ratushinskaya. “There are days and weeks when you can’t stand up because of hunger. I was quite close to death.”
Yet she and her fellow prisoners still challenged the camp authorities with what she called her “holy disobedience” — sticking to an idea of lawfulness and human decency when the authorities seemed full of lies and spite. With her spirit undaunted, she was put into solitary confinement for several months — a final attempt to intimidate a poet whose work had circulated in samizdat (clandestine literary) circles and who had been sentenced in 1983 to seven years’ hard labour for, among other things, “producing materials that damaged communist ideas”.
Ratushinskaya would not be silenced. “They can’t confiscate your brain,” she once commented. Denied writing materials, she would inscribe a new poem on to a bar of soap using a matchstick. “When I finished,” she said, “I would memorise it, wash my hands and send it down the drain.” Her writing and resilience reflected a profound Christian belief. “My faith . . . taught me how to avoid my psychological life being permanently damaged by hatred and bitterness,” she said.
Her indomitable spirit was sustained too by solidarity with fellow prisoners. “We would sing together, and celebrate, perhaps just with a slice of bread and a cup of warm water” — a celebration, she believed, “of the enormous capacity of the human spirit to be happy in spite of any circumstance”. Or she could draw poetical comfort in a mystical moment seeing light playing on a frost-covered window: “Only a blue radiance on a tiny pane of glass/ A cast pattern — none more beautiful could be dreamt!”
Denied writing materials she inscribed her poems on to soap with a match
Ratushinskaya wrote as many as 300 poems while imprisoned. Where she was able to record them on something more durable than soap they were smuggled out to her family and friends. They spread much farther. Enterprising publishers such as Bloodaxe Books in Britain began to publish her work — a collection appearing in the mid-1980s was entitled No, I’m Not Afraid. An international campaign involving Amnesty International and PEN International made her name widely known. Margaret Thatcher took a personal interest in her plight after being alerted by the expert on Soviet persecution of religion Michael Bourdeaux.
In 1986 the new Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, embarrassed by this publicity and sensing perhaps that this formidable voice could no longer be suppressed if his promises of openness were to mean anything at all, authorised Ratushinskaya’s release just before he met President Reagan at the Reykjavik summit. She subsequently emigrated to the West, living mainly in Britain, where she could bear further witness to her life of faith and to what she and many others endured under Soviet rule.
However, in the 1990s, once that rule was over, she was drawn to return to Russia, to the culture and people that had shaped and nourished her despite all the distortions and restrictions a cruel dictatorship had imposed.
Irina Ratushinskaya had been born in 1954 in Odessa. Her father was an engineer, her mother a teacher, but life in early postwar Soviet society was far from affluent. The family apartment had a shared kitchen and no indoor toilet. An enthusiastic gardener in later life, she remembered how her first childhood horticultural efforts were crushed when, two weeks after she had planted a tree in the communal yard around her parent’s flat, the authorities decided to concrete it over.
Her education appeared to follow conventional lines for a highly intelligent girl in Soviet society, as she graduated from Odessa University in physics, which she went on to teach alongside maths. She had, however, demonstrated a dangerous independence of mind. Reading voraciously from the age of four, she joked that she became a dissident aged five, when her parents told her the authorities would not allow her to travel to Africa to see monkeys and crocodiles she had heard about.
Ratushinskaya meeting President Reagan in 1987, the year after she was released
Ratushinskaya meeting President Reagan in 1987, the year after she was released
DIANA WALKER/TIME LIFE PICTURES/GETTY IMAGES
Taught atheism at school, she remembered initially “feeling sorry for God . . . He’s going to be left completely alone and friendless when all the believers die”. She decided she was a believer, and began to take a particular interest in the traditions of her Polish Catholic grandparents and the hidden life and faith of those left exiled or denied their identity. And poetry, she began to sense, was where she could explore what mattered most to her. In a world where there was no religious education and Bibles were confiscated, “the poets tried to keep the spiritual links fresh and alive”.
Her confrontation with those who wished to silence her began in her teens. The local Soviet literary authorities had noticed her early poetic efforts. One state scribe instructed her on how to become an “official writer”. “First, you must write three poems,” he told her. “One about the Communist Party, one about Lenin and one about something neutral — about love or spring.” Another official at the communist youth group she was forced to join before attending university attempted to recruit her as a secret police “hostess-informer”, who would seduce and then inform on potential state enemies. Ratushinskaya caustically informed her mother that she had no intention of being decorated for being “pregnant in the line of Komsomol duty”.
Instead she began to immerse herself in the world of samizdat culture, where artists and writers attempted to live free from state control. She shared this with her husband, Igor Gerashchenko, a physicist and dissident whom she had known since childhood and married when they moved to Kiev in 1979.
The couple expressed public support for well-known dissidents such as Andrei Sakharov and sensed the dangers growing as they defied the authorities. Ratushinskaya described samizdat gatherings “of about twenty people in one room, all silently reading the one work, a sheet at a time; you read one page, pass it on, and wait for the next from your neighbour”. Her own poetry was read in such groups. “We both understand fully what that means . . . soon we shall come up against that bloody meat-grinder.”
The KGB began to harass her regularly; she was eventually arrested, put on trial and imprisoned. She later described her terrible prison experiences in a memoir, Grey is the Colour of Hope, which also revealed irrepressible hope and good humour. She teased her captors by writing in a letter to her husband: “I send you as many kisses as will be allowed by the censors.”
After her release in 1986 and the international campaign in support of her, Ratushinskaya and her husband moved to the West to recuperate. The Soviet authorities cancelled their citizenship and after a brief period in the US they settled in England, where, after her health recovered, they could start a family — their twin sons, Oleg and Sergei, were born in 1992.
She continued to write — historical fiction as well as poetry — about life for those persecuted in her homeland, but the end of the Soviet Union in 1991 left her future more uncertain. At the end of the 1990s she decided to move back to Russia and live in Moscow. She had come to love Britain, she said, but had never become “westernised”.
Of all her poems in No, I’m Not Afraid her character was best reflected in this:
I will live and survive and be asked
How they slammed my head against
a trestle
How I had to freeze at nights
How my hair started to turn grey
But I’ll smile. And will crack some joke
And brush away the encroaching
shadow
Irina Ratushinskaya, poet, was born on March 4, 1954. She died of cancer on July 5, 2017, aged 63

Friday, July 07, 2017

1559 July 7: When Reformation Preaching Prevailed in Edinburgh


by archivist
Thou hast given a banner to them that fear thee, that it may be displayed because of the truth. Selah—Psalm 37:4, KJV
It wasn’t the case that John Knox had not been a pastor before this date. After all, he has served as a pastor in a couple of congregations in his Anglican days. Further, during his time of exile, he had been a undershepherd in Germany and Geneva. But now, having returned to his beloved Scotland, John Knox was called to St. Giles, the mother church of Presbyterianism, the High Kirk of Edinburgh on this day, July 7, 1559. He was to serve the people of God there, except for a brief stint in St. Andrews, Scotland, for the next twelve years, until his death in 1572.
St. Giles was a historic church in many ways. It went back to the Middle Ages. In more recent times, the National Covenant was signed there in 1638. There is a framed copy of it in one of the rooms.  Even the Solemn League and Covenant was drawn up in 1643 when the General Assembly met there at the church. Oh yes, this was also the church in which one Jenny Geddes threw  her stool at an Anglican leader when he tried to lead the worship from the new Anglican Prayer Book, which action in turn led to a riot. Supposedly, there is a stool present within the church there to remember that celebrated incident. Then in 1904, a statue of John Knox himself was presented by Scots people from all over the world for the church.
Knox was a busy pastor during these years at St. Giles. He preached twice on Sunday. Another day of the week had him preaching three times. He met with the Session of Elders weekly for discipline purposes. Still others of the congregation met with him for what is described as “exercises in the Scriptures.” The regional and national  meetings of the church were not neglected by the Reformer. And of course, he was invited to preach the Word all over the kingdom during those years. In fact, so busy was he that the Town Council in 1562 brought in another pastor by the name of John Craig to assist Knox in the ministrations of the ministry.
As far as books were concerned, in 1652, the First Book of Discipline was written there by Pastor Knox. Five years later, his Reformation in Scotland was completed while a pastor there.
And most of all, his celebrated conversation with Mary, Queen of Scots, all took place during these twelve years.  He wanted to lead her to Jesus as Lord and Savior. She wanted to get rid of him out of the kingdom!
He was to take one sabbatical for his own safety to St. Andrews for a while. Someone tried to kill him as he sat in his study at his table.  The bullet missed him. So he went to this other pulpit for a time. After several months, the Session re-called him as their pastor. He went back, but with little strength for the work of the pastor.
John Knox went to be with the Lord in 1572, the details of which this author will write on that date in Presbyterian History.
Words to Live By:
It has been said that John Knox was the Scotsman to whom the whole world owes a debt.  Certainly, we Christian Presbyterians need to celebrate what the Holy Spirit did through him in Scotland and our land, considering that 2014 is the 500th anniversary of his birth. Is your church planning any sort of celebration of his life and ministry? It is not too late to plan one for your people’s appreciation of this Reformer, not to elevate the man, but to praise the Lord who so powerfully worked through him.