Presbyterians of the Past

Polity of the Plymouth Pilgrims

The church at Leyden was the mother church of the Pilgrims in Plymouth, New England. John Robinson was pastor of the Leyden congregation in the Netherlands and continued there until his death in 1625. During...

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Notes & News

The current post celebrating Reformation Day 2021,The Reformation in Scotland: Some Resources, is the 300th added to Presbyterians of the Past since it went online in August 2015. The author hopes the material has been beneficial and he anticipates continuing the site for some time. I have strived to maintain high standards by documenting sources and copy editing each post several times. I do make changes to earlier posts but only when absolutely necessary for accuracy or to improve clarity. My intention is to provide reliable information on the Internet which is a means of information distribution dominated by the impulsive, incomplete, and inaccurate. Happy Reformation Day 2021 and thank you for reading my site. [10/29/2021]

When Martin Luther commented on Christ's statement about his coming to fulfill the Law in Matthew 5:17, he interacted with Augustine's comments on the verse. An English copy of Augustine is available in Philip Schaff's Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series. Luther said, "St. Augustine interprets the word 'fulfill' in a twofold manner. According to him, 'fulfilling the Law' means, first, 'supplementing its deficiencies' and second, 'carrying out its content in works and in life.' But the first interpretation is mistaken. All by itself, the Law is so rich and perfect that no one need to add anything to it; for the apostles themselves had to prove the Gospel and the proclamation about Christ on the basis of the Old Testament. Therefore, no one, not even Christ Himself, can improve the Law. What can you make up or teach that is higher than what the First Commandment teaches (Deut. 6:5): 'You shall love God with all your heart?' He does indeed go beyond Law and doctrine when He gives His grace and Spirit to enable us to do and keep the Law's demands, but that is not 'supplementing' the Law. And so He is not talking about that here, but about that fulfilling which takes place through teaching: similarly, by 'abolishing' He does not mean acting contrary to the Law, but teaching in such a way as to subtract from it." Works, 21:69. [posted 10-20-2021]

The Sermon on the Mount corrects the prevalent Jewish understanding of the Law of God in Christ’s day. Jesus instead of setting aside the Law, vigorously affirms its validity as he fulfills it not only through his work of redemption but by providing its proper interpretation. John Calvin interestingly sees the pattern of the Decalogue in the Lord’s Prayer, Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:1-4. “This form of prayer consists, as I have said, of six petitions. The first three, it ought to be known, relate to the glory of God, without any regard to ourselves; and the remaining three relate to those things which are necessary for our salvation. As the law of God is divided into two tables, of which the former contains the duties of piety [duties of loving God], and the latter the duties of charity [duties of loving man], so in prayer Christ enjoins us to consider and seek the glory of God, and, at the same time, permits us to consult our own interests. Let us therefore know, that we shall be in a state of mind for praying in a right manner, if we not only are in earnest about ourselves and our own advantage, but assign the first place to the glory of God: for it would be altogether preposterous to mind only what belongs to ourselves, and to disregard the kingdom of God, which is of far greater importance.” As from Calvin Translation Society edition, vol. 1, Harmony of the Evangelists, pages 316-17, 1845. [posted 10/16/2021]

The biography of Methuselah Baldwin, Passed Three Score & Ten tells the life of a minister named for the 969 year old grandfather of Noah. The longest personal name in the Bible is Mahershalalhashbaz, who was the son of Isaiah (8:1-4). Has this name been given to others? According to Some Records of the Dyer Family by Cornelia C. Joy-Dyer, 1884, page 38, "In 1661, land in Narrangansett, called Misquamokuck (now Westerly), was taken by William Dyre, Sr., Samuel Dyre, and Mahershalalhashbaz Dyre, and articles of agreement between an Indian captain and others were signed by them." Note that Dyer and Dyre are used interchangeably in the family's history. J. A. Alexander's Isaiah Translated and Explained, vol. 1, 1851, says, "The name may also be read as a sentence — Hasten spoil! Prey hastens. These four words are not merely the heading or title of the writing, but the writing itself. Both the kind of writing and the size of the tablet (admitting larger characters), have reference to its being legible, so that he may run that reads it (Hab. 2:2)." And International Standard Bible Encyclopedia 3, 1915, says Mahershalalhashbaz is "A symbolic name given to Isaiah's son to signify the sharp destruction of Rezin and Pekah by Assyrian power." God instructed Isaiah to give his son the name. [posted 9/30/2021]

As there are several William Tennents mentioned on this site, there are now three John Witherspoons. The first, is the patriot, minister, and educator from Scotland; the second, is his son, John Witherspoon, Jr. who became a surgeon; and the third is the grandson of the first, John Witherspoon, 1791-1853, who was a minister. Readers take note. [posted 9/20/2021]

As the twentieth anniversary of 911 approaches and the 250th of American Independence in just five years, the following quote by Robert Davidson is a reminder of the principles upon which the United States was established. The occasion is stated in the lengthy title, but it is not noted that General George Washington (the title he preferred over President) was present leading the troops that were in Carlisle to quell the Whiskey Rebellion. The Rebellion was a response to a federal tax on the beverage that tested the power of the Federal Government. Farmers of grain on the western frontier of Pennsylvania believed they had been unfairly targeted for taxation by the eastern elite. Davidson believed the Rebellion was inappropriate and contended the farmers should seek change through constitutional governmental procedure. The text transcribed below begins on page 19 of A Sermon, on the Freedom and Happiness of the United States of America, Preached in Carlisle, on the 5th Oct. 1794, and Published at the Request of the Officers of the Philadelphia and Lancaster Troops of Light Horse. By Robert Davidson, D. D. Pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Carlisle, and One of the Professors in Dickinson College. Philadelphia: Printed by Samuel H. Smith for Robert Campbell, 1894. Readers should consider where our nation started, where we have been, where we are, and where we are headed as Americans governed by the Constitution.

"What one nation in the earth is like the American people? History does not inform us of any people who had the same favorable opportunities, that we have had, of choosing that form of government which we might think best, and most conducive to our happiness. What was good in others, we were at liberty to adopt; what was bad, to reject. This opportunity we hope has not been neglected. And we live, and have lived and prospered for some time, under a government which, with all the imperfections that can in any justice be laid to its charge, is one of the most free and excellent under the sun. Nothing is wanting to make it all that we could wish it to be, and to give us the pleasing hope of its stability and permanency, but more wisdom, virtue, and religion, among the citizens at large. This is a government, which all the real friends of freedom in the old world appear; and under the wings of which the oppressed of every nation would wish to take refuge. Here is liberty and equality according to the just acceptation of those favorite terms; liberty, civil and religious, to the utmost extent that they can be, where there is any government at all; and an equality of rights, or provision made for the equal protection of the lives and properties of all. That all men should be equal, as to abilities, station, authority, and wealth, is absolutely, in the present state of things, impossible. But where every citizen has a voice in making the laws, or in choosing those who make them, and is equally under their protection,—there is equality. As to religious liberty especially, we may indeed say, What nation in the earth is like the American people? For every man may entertain what opinions he thinks right, and worship God in what manner he thinks best, without being excluded from any office, to which he has a prospect of rising, on account of his creed or religious sentiments. This is surely liberty, in the utmost latitude that any man could desire." [posted 9/1/2021]

[Previous entries in "Notes & News" have been moved to the N & N Archive.]

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