Presbyterians of the Past

The Tennent Family and
William Mackay Tennent

Before providing a biography of William Mackay Tennent, it is helpful to consider the frequently used name William by the Tennent family. It is all too easy to confuse one William with another. William, Sr...

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Notes & News

When I posted the memorial for Robert Scotty Hastings, I mentioned he had said that when speaking of the people of Scotland they should be called "Scots" because "Scotch is something you drink." Scotch-Irish or Scots-Irish: What's in a Name? by Michael Montgomery, University of South Carolina, contends the distinction is important. The article is well done and it has convinced me that Scotch-Irish Americans is the better designation than Scots-Irish Americans. [posted 7/20/2021]

Martin Luther comments on the meaning of peace in Philippians 4:7. “This is the true peace that satisfies and quiets the heart; not in times when no adversity is at hand, but in the midst of it, when outwardly there is nothing but strife. This is the difference between worldly and spiritual peace. Worldly peace consists in removing the outward evil that disturbs the peace; when enemies besiege a city there is no peace; but when they depart peace returns. Such is the case in poverty and sickness. While they afflict you, you are discontented; but when they are removed and there is health and plenty, there is peace and rest again. He who experiences this type of peace is not changed, being just as fainthearted whether the evil be present or not; he feels it and is frightened when it is present. Christian or spiritual peace, however, just turns the thing about, so that outwardly the evil remains, as enemies, sickness, poverty, sin, death, and the devil. These are there and never desist, encompassing us on every side; nevertheless, there is peace within, strength and comfort in the heart, so that the heart knows no evil and is really bolder and more joyful in its presence than in its absence. Therefore, it is peace which passes and transcends all understanding and all the senses. Reason cannot grasp any peace except worldly or external peace; it knows not how to comfort or satisfy a person in times of affliction. But when the Spirit comes, he lets the outward adversity remain, but strengthens the person, making the timid fearless, changing the troubled conscience into one that is quiet, peaceful.” See, pages 294-95, of Devotional Readings from Luther's Works for Every Day of the Year, edited by John Sander, 1915. [posted 7/13/2021]

Just a few days ago I learned of the passing of David B. Calhoun in early April. At the time, I happened to be reading what may be his last book, Swift and Beautiful: The Amazing Stories of Faithful Missionaries, Banner of Truth, 2020. "Swift and Beautiful" is borrowed from a verse of the hymn, "Take My Life and Let It Be," by Frances R. Havergal, 1874. The book provides a collection of ten chapter-length biographies extending from John Eliot (1604-1690) to a combined biography for late-twentieth-century missionaries Mary Beam and Betty Cridland. The book is fully documented and provides sympathetic but informative accounts that do not shirk the difficult questions regarding its subjects. Dr. Calhoun will be greatly missed not only by his Covenant Seminary students, but also by the many readers of his shelf full of publications. [posted 6/29/2021]

The following is an excerpt from comments by John Calvin on Psalm 133. He points out the importance of striving for Christian unity, but note he does not encourage unity at any price. The Reformation wrought theological change by returning to the sources of Scripture and the fathers of the ancient church. Unity is an important goal, but it must be achieved based on truth. “David in this Psalm renders thanks to God for the peace and harmony which came about after a long and melancholy state of confusion and division in the kingdom, and he exhorted all individually to work to maintain peace.…The hand of God was wonderfully seen, and most unexpectedly, in the concord which ensued among them, when those who had been inflamed with the most violent antipathy cordially coalesced.…There can at the same time be no doubt that the Holy Spirit is to be viewed as commending in this passage the mutual harmony which should exist among all God's children and exhorting us to make every effort to maintain it. So long as animosities divide us, and heart burnings prevail among us, we may still, no doubt, be brethren by our common relation to God, but cannot be judged such so long as we present the appearance of a broken and dismembered body. As we are one in God the Father and in Christ, the union must be ratified among us by reciprocal harmony and fraternal love.…We maintain, therefore, that men are to be united among themselves in mutual affection, with this as the great end, that they may be placed together under the government of God. If there be any who disagree with these terms, we would do well rather to oppose them strenuously, than purchase peace at the expense of God's honor.… Let us then, as much as lies in us, study to walk in brotherly love, that we may secure the divine blessing. Let us even stretch out our arms to those who differ from us, desiring to bid them welcome if they will but return to the unity of the faith. Do they refuse? Then let them go. We recognize no brotherhood, as I have said already, except among the children of God.” [posted 6/22/2021]

John McDowell illustrates the meaning of miraculous in his lesson about the Word of God in Bible Class Manual, vol. 1, p. 37, as follows: "That the Scriptures are the word of God is proved by the miracles they record. A miracle, signifies an effect contrary to the established course of things, or a deviation from the laws of nature. The world is evidently governed by general laws. And when effects are produced according to the natural course of things; or when we do not know, but there may be a natural connexion between the cause and effect, however new or strange such effects may be, we have no right to call them miraculous. As for instance, should we see a blind man restored to sight by an ointment, of which we had never before heard, or of the qualities of which we were entirely ignorant; this might be wonderful to us; but we would have no right to pronounce the cure miraculous or a deviation from the laws of nature; because, for ought known to us, the restoration of the sight might be the natural effect of the ointment upon the eyes. But should we see one restored to sight by the word of another, we would with confidence pronounce the cure miraculous; because we know the human voice, has naturally, no power to produce such an effect. In like manner, we know, it is a natural property of fire to burn and consume. Therefore should a person be cast into the fire, and be, for a considerable time surrounded with the flames, without receiving any injury, we would consider the event miraculous, because it would be a deviation from the known laws of nature." [posted 6/14/2021]

In conjunction with the post, Committee Report on Church Music", it is appropriate to read Psalm 98 which gives instruction concerning worship. Not only are God's covenant people to worship him in song, but the earth and heavens also glorify God. The KJV text is used because it is the one likely read by Christians at the time of the Committee's report.

O sing unto the Lord a new song; for he hath done marvellous things: his right hand, and his holy arm, hath gotten him the victory. The Lord hath made known his salvation: his righteousness hath he openly shewed in the sight of the heathen. He hath remembered his mercy and his truth toward the house of Israel: all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise. Sing unto the Lord with the harp; with the harp, and the voice of a psalm. With trumpets and sound of cornet make a joyful noise before the Lord, the King. Let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein. Let the floods clap their hands: let the hills be joyful together before the Lord; for he cometh to judge the earth: with righteousness shall he judge the world, and the people with equity. [posted 6/8/2021]

I recently read Life and Letters of Samuel Norvell Lapsley, Missionary to the Congo Valley, West Africa, 1866-1892, Richmond, 1893, in conjunction with two other titles about missions to Africa. In all three of these books there was not as much information about the ministry part of their work as I anticipated. Much of the material is about cultural aspects of the respective African tribes; the aesthetic magnificence of the region; the multitude of varieties of animal life, and the aggressive nature of some of the insects. I was amazed at the carnivorous ants. One species, driver ants, consume just about anything that lives including people. Check them out online because they look like something from a low-budget science fiction movie or an enemy faced by Johnny Weissmuller as he kept Africa safe as Tarzan. It was frightening to read of their swarming to overwhelm their prey. Imagine trying to fight off carnivorous ants as they cover every square inch of your body. The defense at the time was to sleep at night within a ring of fire because it was the only way to deter driver ants. [posted 5/29/2021]

Currently available is The Confessional Presbyterian: A Journal for Discussion of Presbyterian Doctrine and Practice volume 16 for 2020. Included within this issue bearing a lovely rendering of a color portrait of James Ussher (1581-1656) are articles about the Archbishop of Armagh by Harrison Perkins, Richard Snoddy, and Benjamin Shaw, as well as a bibliography of his works. Other subjects include pieces on the Westminster Assembly by Clif Daniell and Chris Coldwell (editor of the journal); Stewart E. Lauer on "The Role of the 'Great Commission' in the Apostolic Churches"; a study of David Dickson's sermons on Jeremiah and a bibliography of his works by Matthew A. Vogan; an article by Angelo O. Volle about John Owen's sermons delivered when he preached in ordination services and how they reflect Owen's pastoral theology; Wayne Sparkman of the PCA Historical Center has provided Thomas M'Crie's, as edited by Chris Coldwell, "Account of the Controversy Respecting The Marrow of Modern Divinity" which is currently a subject of interest due to Sinclair Ferguson’s The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters, 2016; the moderator’s sermon by Thomas E. Peck on Mark 16:14-20 delivered at the PCUS General Assembly in 1879; "Neighborhood and Brotherhood," by R. A. Webb; and C. N. Willborn penned the timely entry regarding confusion of the ministries of church and state, "The Soul of the Church: The Church's Spiritual Mission," which he speaks about at Reformed Forum. No, the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth has not been forgotten because Frank J. Smith has provided an article. There are also several reviews as well as brief pieces on Dickson, Ussher, and George Gillespie. The 280 page issue is available at The Confessional Presbyterian. In addition to the current volume, all back issues are available except for the first. [posted 1/11/21]

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

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