More Wisdom from Samuel Miller

The more I read Samuel Miller (see yesterday’s blog post to discover who he was), the more I like him. I came across an article that he had written for The Presbyterian Magazine which was published posthumously in 1854 (He had died in 1850) entitled Church Attachment and Sectarianism. This passage from the article tells the story of a pastor and one of his elders who were at odds over some issue, and the godly response of the elder that grew out of his love for Christ and the Gospel:

How much more wise was the conduct of another Presbyterian, a pious and exemplary elder of the church to which he belonged! He had an unhappy controversy with his pastor, which very much interested the feelings of their respective families. On a certain Saturday afternoon, when they had come together for the purpose of adjusting their difficulties, and reconciling all parties, they were so far from gaining their end, that their controversial feeling became more intensely excited than ever, and they parted in a state of mutual irritation which seemed to preclude all hope of being reconciled. The next day, the pastor appeared in the pulpit as usual, and the elder and his household appeared in his family pew. At the close of the service, as he walked down the aisle, the pastor accosted the elder, and said, “I did not expect to see you here to-day.” “Why not?” said the elder. “Why you have not forgotten,” replied the pastor, “what passed between us last evening.” “No,” rejoined the elder, “I have by no means forgotten it. My feelings were greatly wounded, and I thought you behaved extremely ill. I thought so then, and I think so still. But though I quarreled with you, I have not quarreled with my Saviour. This is his sanctuary, not yours; and that gospel with which you are entrusted, you have faithfully preached to-day. I did not think proper, on your account, to deprive myself of the privilege which I have enjoyed. I have heard God’s precious truth dispensed; and I bless him for the opportunity.” Here was practical consistent wisdom; and here was an instance of an enlightened elder taking more just views of duty than his spiritual guide.

I am grateful that we have such elders at RPC in Beaumont. May their tribe increase! For the full article go to the PCA Historical Center.

Words of Wisdom from Dr. Samuel Miller

Dr. Samuel Miller was the Professor of Ecclesiastical History and Church Government at Princeton Theological Seminary from 1813 to 1849 (back when Princeton was still Princeton). In his The Utility and Importance of Creeds and Confessions we find the following paragraph which could well have been written in 2010:

The church is still “in the wilderness” (cf. Acts 7:38; 1 Cor. 10:1-11); and every age has its appropriate trials. Among those of the present day is a spirit of restless innovation, a disposition to consider everything that is new as of course an improvement. Happy are they who, taking the word of God for their guide, and walking in “the footsteps of the flock” (Song 1:8), continually seek the purity, the peace, and the edification of the Master’s family; who, listening with more respect to the unerring Oracle, and to the sober lessons of Christian experience, than to the delusions of fashionable error, hold on their way, “turning neither to the right hand nor the left” (cf. Prov. 4:27; Deut. 28:14), and considering it as their highest honor and happiness to be employed as humble, peaceful instruments in building up that “kingdom which is not meat and drink, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost!” (cf. Rom. 14:17). May God grant to each of us this best of all honors! And to his name be the praise, forever! Amen! [Boldface print mine]

May the Lord protect the shepherds of God’s sheep from that “spirit of restless innovation” and keep us on the old paths of “turning neither to the right hand nor the left.” For the full text of this lecture go to The Utility and Importance of Creeds and Confessions .

Tuesday Hymns: “O Come, Let Us Sing to the Lord”

Last Sunday we sang as our opening hymn at Reformed Presbyterian Church in Beaumont, Texas, our Tuesday Hymn for this week, “O Come, Let Us Sing to the Lord.” It is the metrical version of Psalm 95:1-6, and the source of this song of praise to our Creator and Redeemer is The Scottish Psalter of 1650. The tune connected to this hymn in The Trinity Hymnal is CAITHNESS, but since that particular tune was somewhat unfamiliar to our congregation, we sang it to the tune entitled, AZMON.

It is prudent when choosing to sing a hymn by a different tune to make sure that the tune actually fits the message of the lyrics. For example, this hymn could be sung to the tune of “Here Comes Santa Claus” which would be totally inappropriate (could I say sacrilegious?) because of the lightness of the tune, and the cultural context in which we live. However, AZMON has a sense of gravitas and dignity which fits the royal message of this particular hymn. (I realize that there is some room for disagreement as to what is appropriate and what is not appropriate among Christians. I still remember a spirited discussion at a national Founder’s Conference about the appropriateness of the tune connected to the hymn, Wonderful Grace of Jesus; one noted scholar was convinced the tune sounded like a circus calliope and had no place being used to sing of God’s amazing grace.)

May the message of this hymn remind you of the fact that we should worship the “Lord, our Maker” in Spirit and Truth.

O come, let us sing to the Lord,
To Him our voices raise;
With joyful noise let us the Rock
Of our salvation praise.

Let us before His presence come
With praise and thankful voice;
Let us sing psalms to Him with grace,
And make a joyful noise.

For God’s a great God and great King;
Above all gods He is.
The depths of earth are in His hand;
The heights of hills are His.

To Him the spacious sea belongs,
For He the same did make;
The dry land also from His hands
Its form at first did take.

O come, and let us worship Him;
Let us bow down withal,
And on our knees before the Lord,
our Maker, let us fall.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism: Question One

Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

The first question a twenty-first century person usually asks when faced with a decision is, “What’s in it for me?” And, to be brutally honest, that has been man’s default position since his fall in the Garden of Eden. However, this kind of thinking actually runs counter to our very purpose. As Solomon said:

I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?” I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine—my heart still guiding me with wisdom—and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life. I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself. I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees. I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house. I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I got singers, both men and women, and many concubines, the delight of the children of man.

So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. 10 And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. 11 Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun. (Ecc. 2)

Solomon asked, “What’s in it for me?” and discovered that the only thing he gained from that frame of mind was vanity (emptiness). Our world is full of people who have “gained the whole world,” and, yet, have lost their souls. Man was created not to chase after pleasure, education, work, agriculture, architecture, entertainment, or power; man was made “to glorify God.” As Revelation 4:11 states, “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” We were created for His pleasure, not our own. However, the amazing truth is that when I am united to God, through Christ, I am able, by His grace, to truly “enjoy Him forever.”

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” (Rom. 11:36)

Leah Michelle Rankin (1981-1989)

Twenty-nine years ago tomorrow, a 1970 Nova came screeching into the emergency room of Harris Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas at 5:05 A. M. driven by a young seminary student with his wife in the back seat just about to give birth to a daughter. Those were the days when birthing rooms were brand new at hospitals, and we were excited to be able to do labor, delivery, and recovery all in the same room. Of course, that would have happened if we hadn’t been cutting it so close in getting to the hospital. Since her birth certificate stated, “Time of birth: 5:10 A. M.” one can see why we didn’t get to be a part of this new concept in labor and delivery care.

In this less than serene way, Leah Michelle Rankin was born into a fallen world. She discovered rather quickly that life on this terrestrial ball was not always easy and pleasant. From the very beginning she experienced digestion problems, and soon developed pulmonary problems, and after 18 months of numerous visits to doctors and hospitals was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis (CF). We had heard of cystic fibrosis but had no clue as to what that diagnosis would mean to Leah or to us.

CF is a disease in which the mucous glands produce excessive amounts of mucous which complicates digestion and makes it difficult for the body to thrive, and, more importantly, makes pneumonia a constant danger because the mucous build-up in the lungs provides a perfect place for bacteria to grow. We found out that the average life span of a CF child was about twenty years (that was in 1981, and much progress has been made in treatment options since then).

Leah’s life was filled with four breathing treatments a day, followed by percussion (to loosen the mucous in order that it could be coughed up), taking enzymes with food for digestion, IV antibiotics when pneumonia developed, large doses of steroids to keep the air passages open (which brought about steroid induced diabetes which meant the need for insulin) and numerous hospitalizations.

I will be forever grateful for the support that we received from our families, the churches to which we belonged during those years, the doctors (especially Dr. Dan Seilheimer), the child-life therapists (Mandy was one of Leah’s favorites), the respiratory and physical therapists, the school teachers both in Mauriceville and at Texas Children’s Hospital, and countless others who made Leah’s life and our lives easier during those difficult years. However, the message that I would like to stress most in these few paragraphs is that LEAH’S LIFE WAS WORTH LIVING.

Leah’s life was difficult, but she was able to love, and be loved; she was able to enjoy the beauty of music and art; she was able to enjoy time with her friends and her family; she was able to enjoy numerous books about Ramona Quimby, and enjoy her seemingly endless number of stuffed animals (which she would always pick out just one to sleep with every night); and most importantly of all, she was able to rest in Christ alone as her “only hope in life and death.” Although we only had Leah for eight short years here on this earth, those years were precious years to us, and, I believe, to her, and they are years that I would never trade away for anything.

Leah will always be a reminder to me that all of human life is precious, and that life in Christ, is even more precious, for Jesus promised in His Word, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.” (John 11:25-26)  And, I must say, I look forward to joining with her one day around the throne of God to sing with the church triumphant, “Alleluia! Salvation and glory and honor and power belong to the Lord our God!

Truth Matters!

I stumbled across a local church website (which will remain nameless) and discovered something very interesting. I saw a list of the church staff and how to contact them, I saw a description of their two morning worship services, I saw a map on how to get there, I saw a description of how to dress (come as you are…I wonder if they REALLY mean that!), I saw a list of activities one could attend, I saw directions about where to take your children, and various and sundry other tidbits of information. However, the one piece of information that I most desired was nowhere to be found: what did they believe?

At first, I was confused about why they did not want readers to know what they believed, but then, the light dawned: their lack of a doctrinal statement IS their doctrinal statement! They were saying that doctrine is not important there! Pragmatism rules!

I am so grateful that when I was ordained to the ministry in 1981 that Dr. A. J. Quinn was given the responsibility of preaching my ordination sermon. His sermon consisted of reading without comment 2 Timothy 4:1-8 which made a lasting impression on me:

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom:  2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.  3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,  4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.  5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.  6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.  7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  8 Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

Thank you, Dr. Quinn, for challenging me at the very beginning of my ministry with the truth that doctrine matters!

Tuesday Hymns: “Psalm 96”

Although there are many aspects of Presbyterian life that are dear to my heart, one that I especially treasure is singing from the Psalter. Singing from the Psalms has been a part of church life for millennia but has disappeared from many churches today because it is not “culturally relevant” or “missional.” (I hate both of those terms!) I am so glad that in 1993 “a special committee of the Presbyterian Church in America approached representatives of Crown & Covenant [The publishing and distribution arm of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America] to ask them to consider producing an abridged version of The Book of Psalms for Singing that might serve the needs of such congregations: inexpensive enough to be affordable and thin enough to fit in the pew rack together with a hymnal.” (from the Preface of The Trinity Psalter)

We sing from The Trinity Psalter every Sunday night and quite often in our Sunday morning worship, also. Last Sunday we sang Psalm 96, which is our Tuesday Hymn for this week. It is a Psalm which calls upon all of the “families of the earth” to “ascribe all glory to the LORD” for He is worthy of praise! (Now that is truly “culturally relevant” and “missional.”) We sang it to the tune of All Hail the Power of Jesus Name (CORONATION).

O sing a new song to the LORD;
All earth sing to the LORD.
Sing to the LORD, and bless His name;
“He saves!” each day proclaim.
His glory to all nations show;
His deeds let peoples know.

The LORD is great. How great His praise!
Above all gods He’s feared.
For heathen gods are idols vain;
The LORD the heavens made.
Before Him honor, majesty,
And strength and splendor be!

O families of earth, ascribe
All glory to the LORD!
All strength ascribe unto the LORD;
The glory of His name
Give to the LORD. To His courts come
And bring an offering.

In beautiful and holy robes
Bring worship to the LORD.
All earth, before Him stand in awe;
Proclaim, “The LORD is King!”
Controlled by Him, the world stands firm;
His judgments justice bless.

Let heav’ns be glad and earth rejoice.
In vast expanse untold
Let seas speak out with endless roar.
Let fields and all they hold
Their glory give; let trees and woods
With rustling boughs give praise.

Let all prepare to greet the LORD,
Because He coming is.
He surely comes to judge the earth.
And righteousness is His.
He’ll nations judge with faithfulness,
The world with justice bless.

Grief in the Present vs. Love in the Past (Love wins everytime)

As I sit here finishing my preparation to take part in a funeral service for a dear brother in Christ, I am reminded once again of how precious life is! Life is not something that we ask for, nor is it something that we deserve, but every day that we live on this earth is truly a priceless gift from God.

Saturday night my wife and I watched the BBC version of Shadowlands (one of the joys of Netflix, and much better than the Anthony Hopkins/Debra Winger version), the story of C. S. Lewis and his wife, Joy. As Joy was dying with cancer, she asked Lewis, “Jack, was it worth it?” In other words, is it worth going through the pain and grief now, and in the future, in order to have been able to share love in the past? Lewis’s answer to that question in 1960 was the same answer that I would give today, “Absolutely!” One’s grief, and the intensity of it, is simply the evidence of the love that one was blessed to share in time and space with another.

The love shared in the past is part of what gives meaning to the sorrow experienced in the present. And, for the Christian, we have the added encouragement that the words that Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica are still true for us today:

13 But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope.  14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.  15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep.  16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.  17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.  18 Therefore comfort one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)  

Lessons from “To Kill a Mockingbird”

Over the last few weeks I read To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. (Actually I assigned it to my just turned thirteen year old to read, so I read it again to be able to quiz him about the book.) The Pulitzer Prize winning novel was written about a family living in Alabama during the 1930s and the struggles with prejudice in their small southern town, and the importance of standing upon principle, even when it may be unpopular.

As one who is old enough to remember experiencing the separate waiting rooms for blacks and whites at Dr. Pearce’s office in Orange, Texas, it was good to notice that my son could not even imagine such a situation existing today. I willingly admit that there is still prejudice in our world. I realize there will always be black politicians ready to pull out the “race card” to feather their own nest, and there will always be white people who will look down their collective noses upon blacks, considering them to be an inferior people, but as the old Virginia Slims commercial used to say (I am also old enough to remember cigarette commercials being on television): “You’ve come a long way, baby!”

Surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly, the solution to all of these issues is to be found in Christ. In this fallen world, we will always have less than the best, but for those who are in Christ we find this beautiful picture in the Book of Revelation, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:9-10)

Tuesday Hymns: “The Sands of Time are Sinking”

Samuel Rutherford was a seventeenth-century Scottish pastor who suffered much for his faith in Christ. During the 1630s he was banished from his pastorate to Aberdeen, and although he was permitted to live in his own house, was barred from preaching. While there, he wrote over 200 letters to his own pastorless flock and other non-comformist pastors (often called his “prison epistles). His dying words were said to be, “Glory, glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.” Those words became the inspiration for Anne Ross Cousin’s hymn, The Sands of Time are Sinking, which is our Tuesday Hymn for this week. It is usually sung to the tune, RUTHERFORD, by Chrétien d’Urhan.

Cousin’s hymn reminds us that it is Christ himself who makes heaven, heaven.

The sands of time are sinking,
The dawn of heaven breaks,
The summer morn I’ve sighed for,
The fair sweet morn awakes;
Dark, dark, hath been the midnight,
But dayspring is at hand,
And glory, glory dwelleth
In Emmanuel’s land.

The King there in his beauty
Without a veil is seen;
It were a well-spent journey
Though seven deaths lay between:
The Lamb with his fair army
Doth on Mount Zion stand,
And glory, glory dwelleth
In Emmanuel’s land.

O Christ, he is the fountain,
The deep sweet well of love!
The streams on earth I’ve tasted
More deep I’ll drink above:
There to an ocean fullness
His mercy doth expand,
And glory, glory dwelleth
In Emmanuel’s land.

The bride eyes not her garment,
But her dear bridegroom’s face;
I will not gaze at glory,
But on my King of grace;
Not at the crown he gifteth,
But on his pierced hand:
The Lamb is all the glory
Of Emmanuel’s land.

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