Historic Documents in American Presbyterianism
The Adopting Act of 1729. One of the most formative documents in the direction of American Presbyterianism, the Adopting Act speaks to the issue of "subscription," that is, how the doctrinal standards of a confessional church are to be viewed.
Preliminary Principles. Originally composed in 1788 by the Rev. John Witherspoon, these Preliminary Principles were drafted and adopted with the intent of establishing a Presbyterian denomination that was more democratic, as opposed to hierarchical, in its structure. Presented here is a table comparing the original 1788 text with that of the PCA's 1973 version of the Preliminary Principles, alongside that of the current PCA text, the 1936 OPC text and the 1938 Bible Presbyterian text.
The Vows of Teaching and Ruling Elders, by Samuel Miller. [Adobe PDF Format] [HTML Format]. In this 1833 Letter, Princeton professor Samuel Miller sets out his views on the matter of "Adherence to our doctrinal Standards." The letter was written as part of the discussion ongoing within the denomination in the years leading up to the 1837 split of the Presbyterian Church in the USA into the two divisions, labeled Old School and New School.
The Act and Testimony . - In 1837 a division occurred in that portion of the American Presbyterian family known as the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. The parties of this split were divided into what were termed the Old School and New School factions. Without here going into the history of this division, suffice it to say that this document was issued by the Old School wing of the division shortly after the split in explication of its own position against the errors of the New School and served as a proposal to remedy the split. Thus it provides an excellent description of the key matters at issue in the split, as viewed by its Old School proponents. The terms "Old School" and "New School" continue to be used in some circles to describe various contemporary factions, but with a good bit of confusion, when in fact, at least in conservative circles, there certainly could be found no one who adheres to historic New School beliefs as outlined here in The Act and Testimony. [HTML] [PDF]
Church Attachment and Sectarianism by Samuel Miller [1769-1850]. [Adobe PDF Format] [HTML Format]. One of the last writings by Miller to be published, this article was written by request in 1846, was mislaid, and only finally printed in 1854. Here Dr. Miller distinguishes between a proper devotion to the pursuit of truth and the errors of sectarianism. He concludes that "...the Presbyterian church...is much more anxious to see the world converted to the holiness and happiness with which Christ came to bless mankind, than to see the peculiarities of its own body gaining universal dominion."
Judgments, A Call to Repentance, by James Henley Thornwell. [Adobe PDF Format] [HTML Format]. This is a sermon preached by Thornwell before the Hall of the House of Representatives of the State Legislature of South Carolina. It does not appear in his collected works, nor has it been located elsewhere on the internet. This document is also our first text composed through the use of OCR technology. Readers are invited to submit corrections and we would particularly invite knowledgeable parties to provide something of the historical context that occasioned the sermon.
What Is Presbyterianism?, by Charles Hodge. [Adobe PDF Format] [HTML Format]. From an address in 1855 before the Presbyterian Historical Society (PHS), Dr. Hodge lectures here on the nature and distinctive characteristics of the Presbyterian system of church government. Charles Hodge [1797-1878] was an eminent professor of theology at Princeton Seminary and a lover of the history of the church as well. This address would have been on the occasion of the third annual meeting of the PHS.
A Pastor's Farewell to his Study, by "H.B.H." - Understandably sentimental and reflecting the writing style of the era, this is nonetheless an interesting piece from 1858 in which a pastor reflects on his ministry from the vantage point of his study.
Thomas Smyth's Pastoral Charge to J.H. Thornwell and F.P. Mullally. Delivered on 4 May 1860, Dr. Thomas Smyth brough the pastoral charge at the service of installation of James Henley Thornwell and Francis Patrick Mullally as co-pastors of the First Presbyterian Church of Columbia, South Carolina. Thornwell died less than 20 months later, and the war brought a quick end to Mullally's pastorate as well. But the effect of Smyth's pastoral charge remains, and it is a powerful education into the nature of ordination and the high calling of the pastoral office.
An Historical Sketch of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, by John Niel McLeod. [Adobe PDF format only]
First delivered at the opening of the Theological Seminary [Philadelphia, PA] of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Session of 1860-61 and reprinted by request of the students. Dr. John N. McLeod was the son of Alexander McLeod
[12 June 1774 - 17 February 1833], a prominent pastor and patriarch of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in the early 1800s.
The Gardiner Spring Resolutions of 1861. After the Adopting Act of 1729, the deliverance known as the Gardiner Spring Resolutions is arguably one of the most significant actions ever taken in the history of the Presbyterian Church. In essence, the resolutions required pastors and members of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. to swear political allegiance to the Federal Government of the United States. By themselves the resolutions would have been controversial enough, but their proposal and enactment came just at the start of the Civil War and the effect of the resolutions was to split the Church.
Dogmatic Christianity, The Essential Ground of Practical Christianity, The Inaugural Address of Archibald Alexander Hodge upon his installation as Associate Professor of Didactic and Polemic Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, November 8, 1877.
Thoughts on the Theistic Controversy, by Francis Landey Patton [1843-1932]. A sermon preached in the Jefferson Park Church in Chicago, IL on 5 January 1879 and repeated 17 August 1879. Delivered during the time when Patton was serving as Professor of Theology at the Presbyterian Theological Seminary of the Northwest (later renamed McCormick)
Christ Our Substitute, by Robert Lewis Dabney [1820 - 1898]. Reproduced here is the first in a series of tracts issued by the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.. [HTML format] [Adobe PDF format]. The date of the publication is not provided in the original, but it probably was published around 1880.
Individual Liberty and Church Authority, by John L. Girardeau. [in Adobe PDF format] This sermon was preached from the text of Romans 14:12 and was delivered during the sessions of Charleston Presbytery (PCUS) on April 11, 1889.
Revision or Reaffirmation?, by Dr. Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield. Among the earlier indications of the doctrinal decline of the northern Presbyterian Church was the 1903 revision of the Westminster Standards. Several years prior to this, Dr. Warfield had himself been asked to serve on the Committee preparing the revision. In the document posted here, Dr. Warfield states his reasons for declining to participate in what he termed "a violent assault upon certain of our confessional statements". This letter, originally addressed to the Stated Clerk of the PCUSA General Assembly, was at some later date published in the tract form reproduced here.
Doctrinal Deliverance of 1910 [PCUSA] - Subsequent to the northern Presbyterian Church's 1903 revision of the Westminster Standards, the General Assembly of the PCUSA produced the following Doctrinal Deliverance. The document was produced by the Committee on Bills and Overtures in response to a situation arising out of the New York Presbytery in which three candidates for the ministry were ordained even though they refused to affirm the doctrine of the virgin birth of Christ. While the 1910 PCUSA General Assembly dismissed the complaint brought against the three men, it did instruct its Committee on Bills and Overtures to draft a statement which all future candidates would have to affirm in order to be ordained. The Committee's completed Doctrinal Deliverance set out five articles of faith judged "essential and necessary." Thus it can be seen that the 1924 Auburn Affirmation was written almost entirely in opposition to this Doctrinal Deliverance. Sadly, by 1927 the General Assembly overturned the Deliverance with the conclusion that the Assembly cannot mandate certain doctrines as "essential and necessary." In so doing, the 1927 Assembly effectively loosed the Church from its moorings.
The Auburn Affirmation and the Confessional Response (1924-1946)
The League of Evangelical Students was a now largely-forgotten facet of conservative Presbyterian efforts in the early 20th century to minster the Gospel in an increasingly unbelieving culture. Formed in 1925, the League established chapters on college campuses across the nation and at its peak listed over 60 chapters on the campuses of both Christian and secular colleges and universities. Its leaders were frequently some of the very same men who later were prominent in the formation of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the Bible Presbyterian Church, Westminster Seminary and Faith Seminary and the League's publication, The Evangelical Student is thus a source of some of the earliest published writings of some of these same men. From the first issue of The Evangelical Student (Vol. I, No. 1, April 1926), three articles serve to represent the philosophy and mission of the League:
Why the League, by Allen A. Macrae
The League's Program, by Ned B. Stonehouse
The Grand Rapids Conference, by W.A.H. Zoerner
My Idea of God, by J. Gresham Machen. Appearing in a chapter in a thematic volume by the same name, this is an article by Machen which is often overlooked. In effect the book was intended to be an extremely ecumenical survey of American religious thinking, with other chapters in the work authored by Rabbi H.G. Enelow, Paulist Father Bertrand L. Conway, Rufus M. Jones [Quaker], Richard Roberts [mystic], Albert F. Gilmore [Christian Science], John Haynes Holmes [Unitarian], Henry Sloane Coffin [modernist Presbyterian] and others.
The Necessity of the Christian School by Dr. J. Gresham Machen, Professor of New Testament in Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, Pa.. This is a reprint of a lecture given by Dr. Machen at the Educational Convention held in Chicago under the auspices of the National Union of Christian Schools, August, 1933.
The Auburn Heresy, by Dr. Gordon H. Clark, Ph.D. An address first delivered on February 28, 1935 before a meeting of Presbyterian laymen in Philadelphia, this work has been reprinted several times since and remains pertinent today.
The Liberal Attack Upon the Supernatural Christ, by Rev. Wm. C. Robinson, D.D.
J. Gresham Machen Ecclesiastical Trial. This newclipping, from an unidentified newspaper, provides details of the ecclesiastical trial of J. Gresham Machen in the 1930s. Charges were brought against Machen for his involvement in establishing the Idependent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions (IBPFM), which was established in response to mounting evidence of modernism, theological liberalism and unbelief among the leadership and staff of the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church of the U.S.A. (PCUSA).
Robert Lewis Dabney, 1820 - 1898: Prince Among Theologians and Men - A Memorial Address delivered before West Hanover Presbytery at its Fall Meeting, 1936, in Stonewall Church, Appomattox County, Virginia, Celebrating the Jubilee Year of the Founding of the Southern Presbyterian Church in 1861, by Henry M. Woods. [And they say no one does long titles anymore!] Henry McKee Woods, 1857 - 1943, was a missionary to China for the PCUS and had known R.L. Dabney from his childhood. This posting of the address by Woods is in Adobe Acrobat PDF only.
The Changing Scene and the Unchanging Word, by the Rev. J. Gresham Machen, D.D., Litt.D., reprinted here from the 4 May 1936 issue of The Presbyterian Guardian. In this article, Dr. Machen considers the question of schism and at what point might a denomination be considered apostate, such that it is necessary and appropriate to leave that church.
The Development of Spirituality in Seminary Students, by Louis Berkhof
The Fundamentalist Christian and Anti-Semitism, by the Rev. Francis A. Schaeffer, Jr. Biblical Christianity must always speak with courage, confronting the culture and proclaiming the grace which is in Christ alone. Schaeffer here writes of how anti-Semitism is entirely antithetical to a biblical Christian faith. In the America of 1943, his message was not necessarily a popular one, and it remains today a timely message which demands re-reading.
1944 PCUS Report on Dispensationalism: Recently it has come to our attention that Dr. D. James Kennedy, when examining a candidate for ordination, routinely asks for that candidate's views on the subject of dispensationalism, and particularly asks him to state his agreement with or disapproval of the 1944 report issued by the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. (i.e., the Southern Presbyterian Church). In light of that anecdote and in an effort to assist those hapless candidates who might otherwise have no knowledge of this document, we reproduce it here.
The Harvey Cedars Resolutions, A significant signpost in the history of the Bible Presbyterian Church was the publication and approval of what came to be known as the Harvey Cedars Resolutions. In 1945 the Eighth General Synod of the BPC convened at the denomination's conference center in Harvey Cedars, New Jersey. Thus the name applied to the resolutions. With its approval, the Bible Presbyterian Church codified much of what had already characterized the denomination, namely its stance on the twin issues of personal and ecclesial separation.
A Review of A Review, by the Rev. Francis A. Schaeffer, Jr.. This hard-to-find article is important as it sets out the apologetic methodology of Dr. Schaeffer. Writing in response to an earlier article in which Dr. J. Oliver Buswell, Jr. critiqued the apologetics of Dr. Cornelius Van Til, Schaeffer here finds a middle road, one which rejects neither evidentialism nor presuppositionalism, but which finds fruit and usefulness in both approaches. For Schaeffer, it is evident that he was more concerned to press home the claims of Christ upon sinful man, and that any useful tool would be pressed into service. [Reproduced here from The Bible Today, a publication of the National Bible Institute [N.Y.C.], October 1948.]
New posting : William Childs Robinson's Commentary on the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Dr. Robinson was a much -beloved professor at Columbia Theological Seminary who mentored many of the men who later became the founding fathers of the Presbyterian Church in America. His commentary on the Shorter Catechism was originally serialized in The Southern Presbyterian Journal, beginning with the March 1st, 1949 issue and concluding with the January 1st, 1950 issue of that publication. Later in 1950 the articles were gathered together as a separate booklet, which reached its fourth printing in 1958.
The Baptism of Infants: Its Meaning and Its Authority, by the Rev. Ben L. Rose, The Southern Presbyterian Journal 8.19 (1 February 1950): 8-12. [PDF image scan]
Prayer, by James H. McConkey [pdf only] From a circa-1950's tract, posted upon the request of one of our patrons. As located among the Papers of Hildreth Greene Mau, Box 422, File 8.
What Presbyterians Believe, by Dr. G. Aiken Taylor.This article originally appeared on the pages of The Presbyterian Journal [Vol. 18, no. 39, 27 January 1960, pages 5-7], not long after Dr. Taylor had taken his post as editor of the magazine. It was later reproduced in pamphlet form for distribution and as such it was an influential publication in the Continuing Presbyterian Church movement of the 1960's. Interest in Dr. Taylor's article continues and it is reproduced here by request.
No Birth Certificate!, by L. Nelson Bell. [pdf only] - This article was originally published in The Presbyterian Journal [25 April 1962, pages 11 and 19] and later reproduced in tract form. It is reproduced here by request. Dr. Bell was one of the founders of The Southern Presbyterian Journal [later renamed The Presbyterian Journal] and a conservative Presbyterian who was quite concerned about the spiritual status of the Southern Presbyterian Church.
The Declaration of Commitment. Originally published on October 4, 1969 by the Presbyterian Churchmen United (PCU), the Declaration was a clarion call issued to the ministers and people of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. (PCUS)--a call for recommitment to the Word of God and to the Reformed Faith, signed by over 500 ministers and published in over 30 major newspapers.
Declaration of Intent. In the years immediately prior to the formation of the PCA, as events began to point more strongly toward the formation of that new denomination, the following document was circulated among like-minded congregations, as an initial means of establishing some sense of unity among the gathering congregations.
A Message to All Churches of Jesus Christ Througout the World from the General Assembly of the National Presbyterian Church. [Adobe PDF format] [HTML format] Initially taking the name "National Presbyterian Church," the first action of the denomination now known as the Presbyterian Church in America was to announce it's own birth. Issued on 7 December 1973, in this Message to All Churches there is the conscious echo of a prior document, bearing a similar heading, issued by the Presbyterian Church in the United States at it's formation in 1861. Thus the new Church in publishing this document pointed back to the once-held orthodoxy of the parent Church, at once setting out a standard for itself, while also calling the parent to repentance.
A Step Forward, by Dr. Francis A. Schaeffer. This article originally appeared in the 6 March 1974 issue of The Presbyterian Journal, in which Schaeffer offers his observations on the birth of the PCA.
A Pastoral Letter Concerning the Experience of the Holy Spirit in the Church Today. Adopted by the Second General Assembly  of the PCA, this document sets forth in pastoral terms the new denomination's stance on the potentially controversial issue of the gifts of the Spirit. In many ways the document serves as an indicator of the tone and balance of future doctrinal deliberations within the PCA.
A Day of Sober Rejoicing. [Adobe PDF format] [HTML format] The following written address was delivered by Dr. Francis Schaeffer at the 10th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America which met in Grand Rapids, Michigan on 16 June 1982. Because of the historic occasion with the Presbyterian Church in America receiving into its body the Reformed Presbyterian Church Evangelical Synod, Dr. Schaeffer and the Christian Education and Publications Committee made this address available to each church and commissioner present at the assembly and to each church and pastor not present at the Assembly. It is presented here for its continuing relevance to the Church today.
Bowen vs. Eastern Carolina Presbytery (PCA) [Adobe PDF format only] - an important case within the PCA in which the Standing Judicial Commission affirmed the judgment of Eastern Carolina Presbytery in that Infant Baptism (WCF 28-4) and Limited Atonement (WCF 3-3, 8-5 and 11-4) are to be considered fundamentals of the system of doctrine and that there can be no exceptions given in the case of officers in the church.